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It's all too easy to fill the grocery cart without reading food labels, but just because it's for sale doesn't make it good for you

It's all too easy to fill the grocery cart without reading food labels, but just because it's for sale doesn't make it good for you. For this reason, each month, as part of a new series geared to natural health shoppers, alive will offer tips on what to look for in a product label. So if you don't already, you'll soon be asking, "What am I really getting for my money?"

The topic this issue is baby food, that gushy blob of colour on your child's highchair. For Heinz Canada, which monopolizes about 80 percent of national baby food sales, every splatter represents money in the bank to the annual total of $65 million but for parents, it's important nourishment for baby's developing body.

"I wouldn't go with average [baby] brands," says Vancouver naturopath Glenda Laxton, who sees lots of women and children at the West Coast Naturopathic Clinic. Commercial baby foods, she says, may have added preservatives, sugars or modified starch. Laxton's first choice is for parents to make their own baby food. It's easy when you've got a blender or a fork and a fruit or vegetable to cook. With the help of one of the natural baby cookbooks on the market, you'll be a whirring whiz.

However, if time is a factor and you must rely on store-bought baby food, don't buy cans. If cans are not treated properly, acidic contents could leach substances from the container. Choose glass jars, and preferably, organic ingredients. Nutrient levels are generally higher and unnecessary pesticides and chemicals are avoided. Healthy Times is one wholesome choice.

Still another option exists for parents. One year ago, Liz and Tyson Dixson used their own family experiences to develop Tiny Bites, a relatively unprocessed, organic, frozen baby food line. The Dixsons point out that after processing and pasteurizing at more than 115°C (239°F), many jarred foods contain almost no natural nutrients, vitamins or colour. Plus, they must be acidified for shelf stability.

So make your spending power count and when buying food for youngsters, don't pass the buck. All of the above natural baby food alternatives are available in health food stores, where shopkeepers are inclined to care about the products on their shelves. Above all, don't rely on information gleaned from slick advertising campaigns. Investigate those labels and your baby will thank you!

Check out cspinet.org/reports/cheat1.html for an 1996 independent analysis of commercial baby food products.

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