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By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 12/02/2008
The hot nutrition and wellness issues coming in 2009 and beyond start with the very youngest members of the family. Growing awareness of the equation of “unhealthy food + children = future unhealthy adults,” coupled with advances in food and ingredient processing are influencing how parents feed infants and toddlers in the 21st century.
There is increasing emphasis on the sanctity of these products. “Natural,” “organic” and “no additives/preservatives” became top positioning claims, accounting for more than 50 percent of total product launches in 2007, according to Mintel International Group (www.mintel.com), Chicago.
Nutrition and convenience are of utmost importance to 73 percent of 10,000 mothers surveyed, according to Zero To Three (www.zerotothree.org), a national nonprofit organization that “informs, trains and supports professionals, policymakers and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.”
The recent shift toward healthier foods for babies and toddlers is only going to expand as large food companies follow the niche and boutique manufacturers who paved the way.
Maddy’s Organic Meals flash-freezes USDA organic-certified fruits for toddlers.
So feeding infants and toddlers has directed innovation focus on freshness and distribution to serve this market. In principle, mothers want to feed their infants and toddlers well; in practice, however, in recent decades they have reached for the convenience of cans and jars.
Small-batch fresh and frozen fruit, vegetable, legume and whole-grain-based baby and toddler foods are becoming more widely available from companies such as Happy Baby/Nurture Inc. (www.happybaby.com), Brooklyn, N.Y.; Homemade Baby (www.homemadebaby.com), Culver City, Calif.; Peas of Mind (www.peasofmind.com), San Francisco; and Chicago-based Maddy’s Organic Meals (www.maddysorganicmeals.com). Dori Boneck, Maddy’s owner (and mom of the real Maddy), flash-freezes USDA organic-certified fruits “at the peak of harvest to ensure maximum flavor and nutrients for toddlers around the nation.”
Such products are not only from start-ups. Companies with strong health credentials – Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. (www.beechnut.com), Latham, N.Y., for example – are reinforcing the new “better for you” message, promising “maximum nourishment.” Beech Nut’s new “No Junk” products – sans artificial flavors or colors, MSG, trans fats, added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or excessive salt – are fast becoming the norm for jarred and dry cereal baby foods.
“The new Stage 3 DHA Plus Sweet Potatoes & Wild Alaskan Salmon is the first jarred seafood option for babies,” says Beech Nut’s marketing director Mary Cool. Based on the latest understanding in infant nutrition, the innovative ingredient combinations provide omega-3 DHA to support baby’s mental and visual development and prebiotics (inulin) to stimulate baby’s growth of “good” bacteria and enhance calcium absorption.
The Stage 3 line includes whole wheat, which is another infant nutrition first in the U.S., to provide babies with added fiber, protein and magnesium, for healthy digestion, satiety and bone-building. The added algal DHA is from Martek (www.martek.com), Waltham, Mass.
For more on trends in infant and toddler nutrition, see "Feeding Baby."
A new man
Men increasingly are turning to food for preventative health, and manufacturers are taking greater interest in how the “other half” thinks about nutrition.
Whereas men’s health issues previously focused on one limelight issue — prostate cancer, with lycopene as a key preventive ingredient — research into nutraceuticals and men’s health is revealing a lot more for the guys from trendy health ingredients. Soy, often identified with the women’s health category, is a perfect example.
“Soy may provide men protection against prostate cancer, heart disease and even baldness,” says Suzanne Dixon, a cancer nutrition epidemiologist and registered dietitian. According to Dixon, male pattern baldness is associated with higher risk of prostate cancer, and soy can reduce the rate of formation of prostate specific antigen though a “common metabolic pathway.” Further research is ongoing, but this could mean soy can protect men against both prostate cancer and hair loss.
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