Latino Babies That Eat Carbs Can Become Obese Adults
When it comes to introducing solid foods to our niños, we typically don’t hold back. What Latina mother hasn’t added rice cereal to their newborn’s formula? In fact, one study found that Hispanic infants (6-11 months old) were more likely than other ethnicities to have already consumed things like our carbohydrate-rich soups, rice and beans, as well as fruit-flavored drinks and cookies.
But new research from the University of Buffalo suggests that to help stave off adult obesity, we should keep our kids’ carb intake to a minimum when they’re babies. This, perhaps, may mean ditching pre-packaged baby foods, in addition to some of our favorite cultural staples.
“Many American baby foods and juices are high in carbohydrates, mainly simple sugars,” says Mulchand S. Patel, PhD, State University of New York Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and associate dean for research and biomedical education in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Our hypothesis has been that the introduction of baby foods too early in life increases carbohydrate intake, thereby boosting insulin secretion and causing metabolic programming that in turn, predisposes the child to obesity later in life.”
Patel and his colleagues have been studying rats for more than 20 years to see how an increased consumption of carbohydrate-enriched calories in infancy can program individuals to overeat in adulthood. They started by giving newborn rat pups special milk formulas that were either similar to natural rat milk or enriched with carbohydrate-derived calories.
At three weeks old, the rat pups that were fed the high-carb formula were weaned onto rat chow. Some were given free reign over the food and others were moderately restricted.
“When food intake for the HC rats was controlled to a normal level, the pups grew at a normal rate, similar to that of pups fed by their mothers,” Patel says. “But we wanted to know, did that period of moderate calorie restriction cause the animals to be truly reprogrammed? We knew that the proof would come once we allowed them to eat ad libitum, without any restrictions.”
What the researchers found was that when the high-carb rat is subjected to moderate caloric restriction (i.e. goes on a diet), the desire to consume carbs is suppressed—not erased completely. No appetite change was identified with the pups fed a natural, low-carb diet.
“An altered nutritional experience during this critical [postnatal] period can independently modify the way certain organs in the body develop, resulting in programming effects that manifest later in life,” Patel says. “During this critical period, the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, becomes programmed to drive the individual to eat more food. We found that a period of moderate caloric restriction later in life cannot reverse this programming effect.”
For us, this data may mean that we—and our children—are best served by following the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, which state that solid foods should not be given before a baby is 4-6 months old. Patel offers that in order to address the obesity epidemic—one in which a 2010 survey found that among Mexican American women, 78 percent are overweight or obese, as compared to only 60.3 percent of the non-Hispanic White women; and Hispanic Americans were 1.2 times as likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic Whites—we must embrace some lifestyle changes right now; starting at a young age.