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Red Meat: Why it's a Recommended First Food

Red meat has stirred up some controversy in the recent past. When we look at the research, it becomes clear that including high quality red meat in your baby’s diet is not only safe, but an imperative step to ensure your little one is getting the right nutrients during this crucial stage of development. Read ahead for more on why we highly advocate the introduction of red meat as a first food.

The big three of red meat

Three of the main reasons red meat is so valuable during the early stages of development:

1) Heme Iron

  • Infants ready for solids have a 7 times greater requirement for iron then an adult male!
  • Red meat is a great source of heme iron, which is the optimal type of iron for absorption.
  • When it comes to iron rich foods, animal products are best as their heme iron is absorbed at approximately 20% (as opposed to plant based non-heme iron that is absorbed at approximately 4% and is highly impacted by dietary factors). 
2) Zinc

3) Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is important for optimal immune function, growth, and development. 
  • While many plant foods like sweet potatoes, dark greens, and carrots contain carotenoids which can to be converted in the body to vitamin A, many people don't convert efficiently due to many factors. Animal sources of vitamin A already contain the converted nutrient and you don't need to consume as much to reach optimal amounts. 

In addition to these three critical nutrients, red meat also offers vitamin B12 which helps to keep nerve and blood cells healthy. It is a great source (ONLY if the beef has been pasture raised) of brain loving DHA (necessary for optimal brain development), and vitamin K2 (important for calcium utilization in the body). Furthermore, it's high in important fat and protein needed for our growing babes!

What to look for when purchasing red meat

When it comes to red meat, the quality is very important. Grassfed/pasture-raised organic beef is extremely different from conventional factory-farmed beef.

  • The meat from cattle that eat only grass (vs grain), has a much healthier fat profile.
    • Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) which are associated with reduced cancer risk and reduced cardiovascular disease
    • Healthier ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids
  • Grass fed beef often contains higher levels of antioxidants like vitamin E and A.
  • Organic beef is free of hormones and antibiotics.
  • Pasture-raised animal products will also have high amounts of vitamin K2, which is essential for the utilization of calcium in the body. Animals fed corn will be deficient in K2.

What about the saturated fat?

You may have heard people say that you shouldn't eat red meat because of the saturated fat. This is based on old theories that we now know not to be true. The real culprits are heavily processed vegetable oils, trans fats, and of course, sugar. Fat is incredibly important (including saturated fat) for the growth and development of a healthy child. 

When is the best time to introduce red meat?

We suggest introducing meat when your little one begins solids (4 to 6 months). As mentioned previously, the importance of iron and zinc (as well as some other nutrients that aren't easily found in plants) should not be overlooked. In addition, there have been more recent studies highlighting the benefits of providing meat as first foods. One such study by Dr. Nancy Krebs illustrated that children who received pureed or strained meat as one of their first foods grew at a slightly faster rate than infants given cereal. It's suggested that inadequate protein and zinc from common first foods may limit growth and children fed meat had higher levels of both protein and zinc. 

How to prepare red meat for your little one

  • As a first food: slow cook various types of red meat (beef, venison, bison, lamb) and blend them with bone broth into a purée.
  • Stewing it in broth breaks down the muscle and you can offer it in tiny chunks!
  • When old enough with better chewing and using hands: cook ground meat with onion, garlic, chopped up veggies, spices, and a blended up tomato to make something that resembles a thick bolognese sauce.
  • Use ground meat to shape into small meat balls that they can easily pick up.
  • Beef stew, beef burgers, beef shish-kabobs. So much fun!! 

What to do if baby isn't a fan

  • Continue to offer meat each time you serve it for your family (and try to offer with no pressure!.. easier said than done!)
  • It can take up to 15 tries of the same food before our little one may even place a finger on it!
  • Keep trying new ways of preparing it (see above).
  • If your little one continues to refuse meat, we would recommending speaking with us about supplementation of zinc and iron. 
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