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Formulating Food for Children: Care, Trends, and Solutions

Anyone working in R&D knows that developing food-related products is not a simple task. The challenge becomes even more difficult when the target audiences are newborns and children.

As newborns are still adapting to the environment, they are more susceptible to allergies and illnesses. This is why baby formulas undergo strict quality control, both by companies and regulatory agencies.

Children have special needs to strengthen their metabolisms for a healthy development. Considering that, certain nutrients must be added to formulations developed for this public.

Also, the increase in childhood obesity and children with food allergies cause more and more concern amongst parents and educators. As a result, they are increasingly taking into account these factors to choose foods that will be part of their children’s meals.

People have voiced their desire to replace saturated fats and sugar-rich snacks with fresh, nutritious foods. This is currently dictating the modern baby food market, and, in recent years, this has caught the attention of many R&D sectors around the world.

In this post, we will provide an overview of the market trends and the solutions we developed for healthy, child-safe foods. Further, we want to explain the special care and precautions we have taken when developing these products.

Required nutrients to be added in our children’s formulas

The presence of macronutrients and some micronutrients in foods marketed to infants are essential for their brain and metabolic development.

 

Macronutrients

 

Macronutrients are needed in great quantity for the normal functioning of the human organism. They include carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Carbohydrates work as a primary energy source because they are easily broken down and metabolized by the body.

Bread, cereals, rice, and potatoes are all sources of carbohydrates. For children, consumption of starches and fiber is preferable to sugar because it allows them to avoid specific health problems, such as diabetes and obesity.

On the other hand, fats are responsible for carrying fat-soluble vitamins. They are part of cell membranes and have essential fatty acids, which our body does not naturally produce. This means that they need to be moderately consumed, and preferably, from healthy food options.

However, because they are a secondary source of energy, fats are stored in fat tissues when consumed in excess. It leads to increase in weight and also the development of cardiovascular problems and obesity.

Considering childhood obesity is growing, it is preferable to use oils rich in unsaturated fatty acids and fats that are produced by interesterification. In this process, fats are structured so as to have low content of saturated fatty acids and 0% of trans fatty acids. The interesterification guarantees palatability, texture and functionality to the fats.

Fish and vegetable oils, such as soy, corn, and canola, are rich sources of essential fatty acids (like linoleic, linolenic, EPA, and DHA). These nutrients play a major role in a child’s cognitive development.

Proteins are also essential for several vital functions. Their composition has essential amino acids, and they help cells to maintain their structure. Further, proteins have metabolic functions and are carriers of oxygen. Beef, pork, poultry, fish, and dairy products are excellent sources of protein.

Fibers are long carbohydrate chains that can’t be digested by the body. They play the important function of regulating the intestine. Besides, they are related to beneficial effects such as reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

 

Micronutrients

 

Unlike macronutrients, the body requires a reduced amount of micronutrients. These, however, also play key roles. Minerals and vitamins are found in this group.

Calcium, which can be found in several dairy products, helps to strengthen bones and teeth. Iron, mostly present in meat, ensures an efficient transport of oxygen through the blood.

Folic acid and B vitamins, nutrients that are found in cereals, spinach, and lentils, help in a child’s cell development. If a child lacks these nutrients, it may cause them to develop anemia, which is why we require them in our formulas.

Food Allergies in children

The Brazilian Association of Allergy and Immunology warns that 30% of the world’s population has some kind of allergy, and 20% of those are children.

The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that between 1997-1999 and 2009-2011, food allergy in children increased by 50% and the number of children allergic to nuts and peanuts tripled between 1997 and 2008.

This increase in food allergies in children may have a simple explanation. One of the studied hypotheses is that this increase is due to better hygiene because it means that children have less exposure to microbes. This causes a redirection of the immune response to factors that would not previously have triggered a reaction because children no longer have a tolerance to these microbes.

Food allergies can lead to anaphylactic reactions that cause death if not treated immediately. Children are the most susceptible to these reactions because their immune system is still being developed.

Now, label information warnings about the presence of allergenic ingredients are extremely important. It is necessary to know the in-depth list of ingredients that are in a product, and this list needs to be clearly communicated, especially if one of the ingredients is a common allergy.

The risks in baby food

In 2017, the Clean Label Project (CLP) analyzed 533 products of the most diverse categories of baby food available on the market and found alarming data.

Baby food with an organic certificate had twice as much arsenic as traditional formulas. In addition, 60% of the products that claimed to be free of Bisphenol A, a carcinogenic compound, tested positive for it.

Baby food that had the worst test performance had 70% more acrylamide, another carcinogenic compound that also causes damage to the brain and the reproductive system.

The CLP concluded that the regulatory agencies’ concerns regarding baby food focused more on microbiological risks, giving little attention to industrial or environmental contaminants, like these mentioned carcinogenic compounds.

These contaminants are present in the soil due to exposure to pesticides and can be absorbed by plants. Some of them, such as acrylamide, may be the result of the production process.

To ensure children’s products are truly free of arsenic and Bisphenol A, a good selection of ingredients suppliers is essential. This way, the products that are produced are actually 100% clean label products that are safe for their little consumers. The best way to choose suppliers has already been addressed in this blog post.

Baby food market trends

By 2017, organic food sales reached approximately $50 billion, a big part of which was baby food.

The search for pesticide-free and GMO-less products that are considered more nutritious by parents and educators is one of the main trends in the baby food market.

Another trend focuses on packaging innovation. Pouches are a great example of this trend. They have taken over the shelves because they are practical and serve as an effective barrier, keeping food fresh for longer periods of time.

There is also greater diversity in the portfolio of products for children, such as superfood baby probiotics, a category that aims to strengthen the immune system and is free of milk, gluten, and sugar.

Innovation in the baby food production process is also rising. For example, the use of high pressure treatment to avoid using high temperatures. Using this technique, more nutrients and sensory characteristics are preserved.

Choosing the type of oil or fat that will be part of the children’s snacks has also been made more carefully. In this case, interesterification of soybean oil is an alternative for structuring the products with no trans-fat need.

Conclusion

Trends indicate that the future of children’s products is linked to the development of organic, fresh, clean label formulations, and without the addition of sugars and saturated fats.

The formulation of baby and children products requires large processes to ensure the presence of necessary nutrients for the healthy development of their target audience.

Finally, it is important to ensure the use of ingredients free of environmental and industrial contaminants. For this, obtaining safe and qualified ingredients is essential.

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