Why not give green leafy vegetables to babies

Why not give green leafy vegetables to babies

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Green leafy vegetables such as spinach or chard are very useful in vegetable purees, as they give them that typical green touch. In addition, spinach, for example, is a source of numerous vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6 and folic acid, C, K and E) and minerals (manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and zinc) apart from fiber.

However, according to the recommendations of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition, should not be incorporated into the diet of children under one year of age, or if it is, it must be in very small quantities. In general, it is convenient to control its consumption during early childhood.

The reason for this restriction is the presence, naturally, in this type of vegetables, as well as in others present in the diet, nitrates, which in themselves do not present a great toxicity, but that in the body are transformed into nitrites, whose toxicity is much higher. Nitrates are also used, added artificially, as preservatives in food.

On the other hand, exposure of nitrites to heat favors the appearance of nitrosamines, potentially carcinogenic, but vitamin C, which is usually present with nitrates in food, protects against this transformation.

Hemoglobin in the blood carries oxygen from respiration from the lungs to the tissues where it will be used by cells, and carries carbon dioxide back to the lungs. This hemoglobin normally contains iron in its ferrous state (Fe2 +), but the presence of nitrites in the body alters this iron, causing it to oxidize and be in a ferric state (Fe3 +). This abnormal form of hemoglobin is known as methemoglobin, and when found it loses its ability to transport oxygen to tissues. Methemoglobinemia is the disease that occurs when there is an excess of methemoglobin in the blood.

High amounts of nitrates in the diet, which are later transformed into nitrites, can therefore cause methemoglobinemia. This process is favored by the presence in the stomach of nitrate-reducing bacteria, more frequent in the gastrointestinal tracts of children than in those of adults, whose pH is lower. During the first 6 months of life, infants fed artificial formulas are more prone to this disease since the water with which they are made contains nitrates. Furthermore, at these ages a part of the hemoglobin is still in its fetal form, more sensitive to the transformation into methemoglobin. It is advisable, as a precaution, to use a very low mineralized water to prepare the infant formula.

Methemoglobinemia, due to the lack of oxygen in the tissues, manifests itself mainly with cyanosis. It is often known as blue baby syndrome, as the skin takes on this hue. In addition, it produces weakness and accelerates the heart rate. Very severe cases, with levels of methemoglobin in the blood above 50%, have, in fact, potentially fatal consequences.

On the other hand, exposure during pregnancy, and particularly in the third trimester, to elevated levels of nitrates and nitrites can increase the risk of complicationssuch as anemia or high blood pressure. In severe cases, abortions, pre-eclampsia, and premature births can occur.

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