Parents should read those labels. They may be starting their infants down the junk-food trail with baby food laden with starches and sugars, a consumer advocacy group said Thursday.
“I’m not saying these foods are dangerous in any way,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, which did the study.
The problem is that many are overloaded with water, thickeners and fillers, he said.
The privately funded Washington-based consumer group was founded in 1971. Its studies have ranged from toxic chemicals in the environment to nutritional value of foods. Recently, the center has publicized nutrition and fat content in deli sandwiches, movie theater popcorn and foods served in Chinese and Mexican restaurants.
Gerber, Heinz, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best and Growing Healthy products were analyzed by Jacobson and nutritionist Daryth Stallone. The two reviewed nutrition information provided by the manufacturers, compared prices of more than 200 baby foods and conducted taste tests.
They were most critical of Gerber Products Co., which controls about 70 percent of the market.
Gerber immediately responded with a statement saying the study “distorts the real issues in infant feeding.”
The National Food Processors Association also criticized the study and suggested consumers can make their choices from nutrition information on labels required by federal law to be on every jar, package and can.
And Heinz spokeswoman Deb Magness said the study was wrong to call the modified food starches in baby food “filler.”
“They enhance flavor, texture and taste. They prohibit the ingredients from separating so the child gets all of the nutrition in the food,” said Magness.
In the study, Gerber and Heinz were accused of most frequently putting higher levels of water and additives in products.
The most popular Gerber products, for example, contain bananas, Jacobson said. One product is pure banana with water. Another, in a larger jar, is called Bananas and Tapioca and contains only half as much bananas as Gerber’s plain banana product in a smaller jar.
The study also criticized the amount of sugar in baby food desserts. “These are the first junk foods many American children will eat,” said Jacobson.