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Hello out there, this is Marshall. I’m a Farm to Baby co-founder and doctoral candidate in molecular biology at Princeton University, where my research focuses on metabolism.
We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the loss of micronutrients in stable foods compared to fresh food like Farm to Baby. Parents deserve to know what they are feeding their families, so I’ve assembled data and conclusions from some peer-reviewed scientific and medical literature, which I’ll get to in just a minute. You won’t have to take my word for it–I’ll provide all of the references to the studies so that you could follow up yourself because at Farm to Baby, we think transparency and trust are paramount.
Calories versus Micronutrients
Before talking about what’s lost, I should briefly discuss what nutrients we get from our food. There are the basic building blocks and energy sources: carbohydrates (starches), protein, and lipids (fats). A diet containing only these three items wouldn’t lead someone to starve per se but would result in numerous fatal medical ailments like scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency) or immune system dysfunction (Vitamin A). What keep us in great health are the non-caloric parts of our food: micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients. While they are in “micro” in quantity in our food, these are of mega importance to growing infants who need to double in size between 6 and 12 months, and a diet rich in micronutrients ensures that she or he will have everything necessary to do so.
Shelf-stabilization and micronutrient loss
The baby food seen on store shelves is cooked twice. Once to soften for pureeing, and again at high heat and pressure to make it shelf-stable, which is often called “canning” or “pasteurization”. That means regardless of packaging–jars, cans, or squeeze-packs–the food was heated to high temperatures to make it stable for the shelf. High-heat processing is also true of products labeled “organic,” a government controlled term that doesn’t relate to processing.
While the calorie content of foods is not damaged by heat, precious micronutrients like Vitamin C do not fare nearly as well. In this table from the review “Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables” published in The Journal of Food Science and Agriculture (2007), we can see the data collected from 5 different reports extending all the way back to the 1970s. The results are not good for canned items: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid to scientists) loss ranges from between 62% and 88% for broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach, and green beans. Only beets seem to retain their Vitamin C following canning.
Scientists have made similar measurements for carotenes, micronutrients that are made exclusively by plants, which your body uses to make Vitamin A. Your eye can observe the loss of these brightly colored pigments in preserved foods. While chemical analysis is a bit tricky for these molecules, some researchers report that canned fruits lose an astounding 50% of their total carotene content.
So, we conclude that the process of excessive heating destroys precious micronutrients to create foods that are closer to being empty-calories than their fresh counterparts.
Does your food come from a factory or a kitchen?
The process of cooking food by hand in a kitchen–I’m sure you know–differs immensely from food production in a factory. The methods often used in food factories involve plunging fruits and veggies into large vats of water to soften and sanitize, which leeches huge quantities of water soluble vitamins and minerals into the water that is then discarded. At Farm to Baby, we cook food by steaming or roasting, which keeps nutrients in the food destined for your baby.
More than just nutrition, we know that flavor is paramount for babies and parents alike. That’s why we make a food delicious enough that parents admit to snacking on spoonfuls when no one is watching. If you want to taste the difference between our food for babies and their baby food, we’ll be at several markets in Brooklyn in the coming weeks, and we’d love to meet you.
Finally, we cook and package all our food by hand. That means we keep a close watch on the integrity of our product from farm to family, and we are not at risk for automation disasters like glass contamination, which recently caused a recall on jars of baby food.
Marshall Louis Reaves
Farm to Baby Co-founder
Here are the references in case you want to track down the data yourself:
Murcia MA, Lopez-Ayerra B, Martinez-Tome M, Vera AM and Garcıa-Carmona F, Evolution of ascorbic acid and peroxidase during industrial processing of broccoli. J Sci Food Agric 80:1882–1886 (2000).
Howard LA, Wong AD, Perry AK and Klein BP, β-Carotene and ascorbic acid retention in fresh and processed vegetables. J Food Sci 64:929–936 (1999).
Weits J, van der Meer MA, Lassche JB, Meyer JC, Steinbuch E and Gersons L, Nutritive value and organoleptic properties of three vegetables fresh and preserved in six different ways. Int J Vitam Res 40:648–658 (1970).
Jiratanan T and Liu RH, Antioxidant activity of processed table beets (Beta vulgaris var. conditiva) and green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). J Agric Food Chem 52:2659–2670 (2004).
Newtown Pippin: A beautiful russeted heirloom apple with complex, slightly tart flavor, the Newtown Pippin originated in 18th century New York and was a colonial favorite (Thomas Jefferson believed it to be peerless). We roast, puree and whip ours until they are incredibly smooth and light. This is definitely not applesauce.
Adirondack Reds and Leeks: Another New York native, the Adirondack potato is unusual in that both its skin and flesh are pigmented. As a general rule, brightly colored foods bear carry important micronutrients, and this pretty pink hue denotes a rich source of antioxidant anthocyanin compounds similar to those found in red fruits like raspberries and cranberries. We added tender leeks to the mix to pump up flavor and nutrition. The leek, the mildest member of the onion family, is loaded with awesome B-vitamins, like folic acid.
Brussel Sprouts: A cultivar of wild cabbage first brought to the United States by French settlers, these edible buds are perhaps the best-loved member of the Brassica family (with kale poised to overtake them any day now). Brussel sprouts pack the nutritional punch you expect from a cruciferous veggie. Ours go down easy in this incredibly silky puree.
Old Henry: A white-skinned sweet potato with creamy, golden flesh, Old Henry is less fibrous than common sweet potatoes, and it cooks up beautifully with an almost pudding-like texture and consistency. Vitamin A abounds.
Farm to Baby Menu for Friday March 2nd
This week we have organic Beauregard sweet potatoes, Cameo apples, parsnips, and Savoy cabbage. Read more below.