Rice is staple food for many households and until recently, fortified rice cereal has been a highly recommended first food for babies. However, there has been a big shift and rice has become a little bit demonised. Gone are the days where every parent is using baby rice cereal as a first food.
You might have read something about iron fortified foods causing constipation or that rice contains too much arsenic? Gosh! That would be enough for any parent to put down the rice cereal and move on quickly. But…do you need to be worried about rice? Should you be avoiding it? Let’s dive in.
Firstly, let’s tackle the scariest question.
Does rice contain arsenic? Is it dangerous to give to your bub?
In Australia we have really strict regulations around food safety. FSANZ, which stands for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, are responsible for developing and enforcing food standards in Australia. In a nutshell, it is their job to make sure our food is safe. In 2017 off the back of several studies looking at arsenic in commercial rice products (specifically foods marketed at or available to children) they conducted research looking at 200 rice products and tested the arsenic levels. From what they tested 80% did have arsenic in them but at a rate much lower than the Australian limits allowed.
So why is there arsenic in these products at all? Rice, like many plant foods including fruits and vegetables, contains low levels of arsenic. This is because the plants absorb what is in the ground they grow in, and some soils contain arsenic residue. Traces are very small and rice-based products are tested to ensure they are safe to consume.
So, what does this mean? This mean in general you don’t need to be stressing about arsenic in your baby’s food. If you’re feeding your bub large amounts of rice or rice products several times a day, then it would probably be a good idea to look at ways to reduce the rice to make sure there is a little more variety. More than the arsenic, the large amount of rice would likely be filling them up and making it hard to get in other important nutrients like protein, iron, fats, vitamins and minerals needed for their quickly growing bodies.
How about constipation?
So, some bubs are more sensitive, and you might find that they become constipated with iron fortified cereals. But it is important that we don’t confuse reduced bowel movements (which are common when transitioning to solids from milk feeds) for constipation. We would suggest offering a variety of iron rich food sources for your bub as soon as they start solids and if you feel they might be constipated, check out our article on ways to manage this rather than cutting out foods is a good idea.
All rice is a great source of carbohydrates, the bodies main fuel source. Rice also contains fibre, a small amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Brown and wild rice contain more fibre as well as more protein, vitamins and minerals than white rice. Variety is key and offering rice amongst other grains is a good idea. Baby rice cereal has energy and iron, but lacks protein, fat and zinc. If you do offer baby rice cereal adding in some other foods can really boost the nutrition.
Is it an allergen?
No, rice is not considered a top nine allergen. However, there is an uncommon condition called FPIES (food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome) which is a delayed non-IgE gut allergy. It is very rare and it is estimated that it only effects 1 in 7,000 children before the age of 2. (1) For these kids, trigger foods are often rice, oats or cow’s milk.(1) Most of these children will outgrow this allergy but management is guided by an allergist.
How to serve it
- Rice can be tricky for little bubs to pick up as they mainly use their palmer grasp to pick up food. Mixing rice with other foods to help it stick together can be a great way to allow bub to eat rice, but encourage independent feeding. For example, you could mix avocado and tuna through rice and roll it into balls or mix it with yogurt, so it better sticks to a preloaded spoon.
- Rice is not a common choking hazard, but can be hard for babies new to solids to move with ease around the mouth. Fork mashing can assist with this and mixing with a little liquid like breastmilk, formula or a puree.
- There are really no limits on the way you serve rice from here on out
- You could start to introduce a rice cake when bub is ready to tackle this type of texture. Rice cakes are a great vehicle for nutrient rich spreads with avocado, cottage cheese or hommus.
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed or confused with the Starting Solids thing and wanting some personalised guidance head over and book a one on one consultation with one of our paediatric dietitian's. We can help you put a plan in place that suits your family and your lifestyle to make introducing solids stress free!