Ecotrophologist, cook and nutritionist
Spinach is wrongly suspected to be life-threatening to babies - it would only be in the first three months of life, but at that time no mother would give any kind of solid food to her baby.
Nevertheless, too much spinach is not completely harmless - not even for us adults. As a leafy vegetable, spinach is one of the vegetables that are rich in nitrate, along with many vitamins and nutrients.
Plants need nitrate for their growth, for the human body, this nitrogen compound is not digestible, but non-toxic. Each day, each person absorbs about 100 mg of nitrate through vegetables and other foods and tap water. Part of the nitrate is simply excreted, but another part is converted to nitrite by the body's own bacteria. This substance binds the iron in the body and thus impedes the transport of oxygen in the blood. In addition, nitrite may form so-called nitrosamines, which are suspected of causing cancer.
As soon as your child eats solid food and you want to do without finished Babygläschen, you should pay attention to the nitrate content of the food in the preparation of the porridge. Fresh vegetables are classified into three groups: high, medium and low. Spinach is in the high nitrate category, as are lettuce, chard, beetroot, cabbage and savoy cabbage. Depending on growth conditions and processing, fresh spinach contains between 350 and 3900 mg nitrate per kilogram, frozen spinach around 2000 mg per kilo. In comparison, salad can contain up to 4500 mg per kilo.
At the age of four months, a baby's body should have made enough hemoglobin to eat spinach without any problem. However, since not all effects of nitrite and above all of nitrosamines have been sufficiently researched, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment advises all consumers to pay attention to the lowest possible nitrate intake, and to eat only moderately high-nitrate vegetables.
If you follow these tips, your baby will not be at risk from the nitrates if the diet is balanced.
- Do not give your baby spinach until the 5th month.
- From the sixth month - if you feed at all: Do not give your baby a porridge, which consists exclusively of nitrate-rich vegetables. For example, mix spinach with cereals or carrots.
- Vitamin C prevents the conversion of nitrate to nitrite. So combine high-nitrate meals with foods rich in vitamin C, such as parsley, broccoli, cauliflower or serve (diluted with water) fruit juices at mealtimes. Sea buckthorn is especially good as this plant has a tremendously high vitamin C concentration. Rosehip tea is also suitable.
- Frequently replace high-nitrate vegetables with low-nitrate vegetables. Even fruit is low in nitrates.
- Before cooking leafy vegetables, remove the outer leaves, stems, and ribs (the white, branching stems in the leaf). These are particularly rich in nitrates.
- Water spinach instead of placing it in a strainer.
- Cooking reduces the nitrate content. Blanching or cooking spinach reduces the amount of nitrate by up to 70%. Of course, you do not need to "boil" the vegetables, otherwise they will lose all the important vitamins. Then pour the cooking water away.
- Do not cook high-nitrate foods in the microwave. As a result, the nitrate content is not lowered.
- Do not keep nitrate-rich foods warm or warm them up. Feed your baby with the cooked porridge as soon as it is ready and chilled.
- Leftovers should not remain open and / or slowly cool. It's best to freeze them immediately.
- Store fresh vegetables only briefly and always cool.
- Use frozen spin immediately after removing it from the freezer. Do not let it defrost first.
- Organic and outdoor vegetables tend to have less nitrate than vegetables from the greenhouse or conventional cultivation.
- Choose young spinach, which contains less nitrate.
- Watch the season! Eat nitrate-rich vegetables, especially in bright months (around April to October). The more natural light influence the vegetables had on growth, the less nitrates it contains.
This article was written using the following sources:
Schlieper, Cornelia: "Fundamental questions of nutrition," Felix Büchner - crafts and technology; Hamburg; 2004
Bavarian State Ministry
for environment, health and consumer protection, dr. Gerhard Leutner and Dr. med. Johannes Griffig: "Nitrate Content in Food", 2004
Federal Institute for Risk Assessment: "Nitrate in rocket", Statement No. 004/2005 of the BfR dated 8.12.2004
Nitrate in rocket
AID Issue No. 20/03 15.05.2003, Ute Gomm: "Preparing Spinach Correctly: Tips for Nitrate Reduction"
Prepare spinach properly
Dr. A.-J. Bosset Murone, Dr M. Roulet "Questions to the Specialist: Can Vegetables be Dangerous for Babies?" in "Paediatrica" Vol 14, No8, 2003, p.53 / 54 German version by P. Bähler at Swiss Paediatrics
WHO Press "Nitrates and nitrite in drinking water", "WHO Guidelines for drinking-water quality", Geneva, 2007:
PDF document on the WHO page