About a year ago, Stanford pediatrician Alan Greene made it his mission to convince the public to eliminate white rice cereal from babies’ diets.
He called it the “White Out” movement, and set the target date for this Thanksgiving.
He proposed that this long-standing tradition of feeding young children processed white rice cereal is no different than giving them “spoonfuls of sugar,” since this is what white rice turns into in our bodies.
“I have been studying nutrition very carefully for more than a decade now and one of the things that I have become convinced of is that white rice cereal can predispose to childhood obesity,” said Greene in a January ABC interview. “In fact I think it is the tap root of the child obesity epidemic.”
We’ve come to rely on white rice cereal as a main transition food when introducing babies to solids, but with childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics on the rise, perhaps this go-to meal deserves a second look, say the experts.
“From a medical standpoint, rice cereal is well tolerated by babies,” said Sandhills Regional Medical Center Dietitian Alex Smith. “There are other options, like plain instant oatmeal, which is used in pediatric hospitals, to thicken formula. I don’t think using whole grains instead of white rice would be harmful, as long as it’s tolerated well.”
Smith went on to say that, regardless of whether foods being introduced are white or whole grain cereal, serving correct portion sizes is key.
Greene advised that whole grain solid foods, like pureed fruits and vegetables with whole grain cereal, is a healthier option for babies than white rice.
“The difference between white rice and brown rice is huge,” said Greene in the same interview. “White rice is basically 94 percent starch. Brown rice though is 25 percent other stuff: protein, essential fats, and minerals, all kinds of good stuff.”
He commented in an interview with USA Today that he “is concerned that babies are getting hooked on the taste of highly processed white rice and flour, which could set them up for a lifetime of bad habits.”
Given the steady increase of diabetes diagnoses over the years, could there be a chance he’s right?
“My children are 16, 14 and 11,” said Deb Roberts, of Hamlet. “I used powdered oatmeal instead of white rice cereal when they were small.”
Roberts went on to say that her family continues to make eating whole, natural foods a habit.
“When my children were small, using formula in place of breast milk and feeding white rice cereal was very popular,” she said. “I think more people today are starting to go back to a more natural way of eating and feeding their children less processed foods. When I did it, it was a little odd but I think it’s gaining popularity now.”
Christy Mabe of Ellerbe is inclined to agree.
”I made my own foods,” she said. “I went to the local produce stand in Ellerbe about once a month and loaded up on fruits and veggies. As they got bigger I fed them whatever we were eating, but without salt.”
White rice cereal is certainly not the only culprit in the childhood obesity epidemic, nutrition experts say, but we could be setting our kids up for nutritional failure from the first mouthful.
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.