Caveat: The study was funded in part by the National Pork Board
Conventional wisdom has continued to change when it comes to what parents should feed their babies. Though you’ll still want to avoid giving your baby a rack of ribs, a new study suggests that pureed beef and pork are underutilized options for supplying babies under 1 with protein, and that introducing meat earlier could potentially boost your baby’s growth—as in, length.
A study conducted at the University of Colorado and recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the eating habits of 64 infants between the ages of five months and 12 months. Researchers divided the otherwise similar children into two groups: one who saw their diets supplemented with protein from dairy, and another whose diets were supplemented with meats like pureed beef and ham alongside their normal diet. The study found that though overall calorie, protein, and fat consumption remained the same for both groups, the meat group had better linear growth. The children who ate meat ended up nearly an inch longer than the dairy group without any major differences in weight.
“We found that the source of protein may have an important role in regulating growth,” Minghua Tang, an assistant professor of pediatrics who led the study, said in a statement. “The infants had distinct growth patterns, especially for length, depending on whether they ate meat- or dairy-based complementary foods.”
Here's the thing, though: The National Pork Board helped fund the study, and of course they were happy with its results. “This research is particularly exciting because it shows nutrient-rich pork can play an important role in the whole family's diet,” said Adria Huseth, the board’s manager of nutrition communications and research. “It's nutrient-rich, as well as a versatile, affordable and accessible protein.”
But when contacted by the Des Moines Register, even Tang seemed to backtrack a little bit from her findings. “We're not telling parents to load an infant’s diet with red meat, but to consider animal-sourced protein as an option,” she told the paper, emphasizing that 64 kids was a small sample size and more research was needed.
Meanwhile, the Register also spoke with Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University nutritionist, who said she “would not make meat one of the first foods I provided my child.” She suggested that giving a bit of meat is certainly OK, but added, “Before one, food is for fun.” Uh, what’s more fun than a pulled pork sandwich?