Introducing infants and toddlers to a low-protein Nordic diet that emphasizes plant-based foods could help them develop healthy eating habits
New research recently presented at the 54th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) suggests that the key to healthier eating habits may be initiating babies and toddlers to a low-protein Nordic diet with greater concentration. on foods of plant origin.
By the age of 18 months, infants who began receiving tasting portions of the New Nordic Diet, which includes fruits, berries, roots and vegetables, as well as breast milk or formula, ate almost two times more vegetables (a 46 percent increase) than those who were fed a conventional diet.
As part of the OTIS experiment, researchers from Umeå University in Sweden, the Stockholm County Council Center for Epidemiology and the University of California in the United States studied two groups of infants aged 4-6 months at 18 months. A total of 250 infants participated and 82% of them completed the study.
The toddlers in the 2 groups had quite different eating habits, according to the study. Those who followed the New Nordic Diet, who received Nordic homemade baby food recipes, reduced-protein baby food and social media support from other parents, ate 42-45% of more fruit and vegetables at 12 to 18 months of age than those on the traditional diet were currently advised by the Swedish Food Agency.
Although in the traditional diet group, fruit consumption remained constant, but between 12 and 18 months, infants receiving the traditional diet consumed 36% less vegetables.
Babies on the Nordic diet had an average protein intake 17-29% lower than those on the conventional diet at 12-18 months of age. It was still within the recommended protein intake levels and the total calorie count between the two groups was the same. The reduction in protein in the Nordic diet group was replaced by more carbohydrates from vegetables, not more grains, as well as additional fats from rapeseed oil.
Lead researcher Ulrica Johansson, an MD in pediatrics and a dietitian at Umeå University, Sweden, said there didn’t appear to be any negative effects of lower protein intake.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Johansson says: “A Nordic diet with reduced protein, introduced to naïve infants of this feeding pattern, increased consumption of fruits, berries, vegetables and roots, establishing a pattern food preferable over a period of 12 months.
“There were no negative effects on breastfeeding duration, iron status, or growth.”
“A Nordic reduced-protein diet is safe, feasible, and can contribute to sustainable, healthy eating in infancy and early childhood,” she added.
The new research could pave the way for broadening the spectrum of tastes in infants and potentially provide an effective strategy for instilling healthier eating habits early in life.
The Nordic diet has a higher intake of regionally and seasonally produced fruits, berries, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, tubes and legumes, as well as whole grains, vegetable fats and oils, fish and eggs, and lower consumption of sweets, desserts and dairy products, meat and meat products.
Typical Nordic fruits include bilberry, buckthorn berry, cranberry, raspberry, and blueberry, as well as fiber-rich vegetables such as turnip, beetroot, rutabaga, celeriac, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale.
Chairman of the ESPGHAN Nutrition Committee, Professor Jiri Bronsky, said: “The authors showed a significant effect of diet in children aged 12 and 18 months. The Nordic diet group consumed more fruits and vegetables and less protein than the control group. The Nordic diet was well tolerated and did not negatively affect infant growth or breastfeeding duration. Importantly, this research demonstrates that this diet is safe, feasible, and exposes infants to a variety of flavors that may influence long-lasting food preferences.
Meeting: 54th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN)
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