Babies are being denied vital nutrients by mothers who feed them fish and chicken rather than red meat, according to a study at Surrey University.
The research, by Jackie Stordy and Jane Morgan, involved asking 1,000 mothers to record in a diary the food and drink their babies received in 24 hours. Dr Stordy said: "If red meat is in the diet, babies are less likely to suffer from iron deficiency."
Fish and chicken are not a suitable substitute for red meat because they do not provide so much readily available iron. Babies fed on commercially-prepared baby food had a higher intake of iron as it is added to such foods. The study was done for Cow and Gate Nutrition.
Dr Morgan said that the babies could be absorbing iron more efficiently to make up for low intake. "Without clinical indicators we cannot be sure these babies, on intake alone, are iron deficient."
Diets can also fluctuate and some of the low intakes noted could just be temporary. The researchers nevertheless believe that the study suggests that iron deficiency could be affecting infant development. "A low iron diet can lead to anaemia, slow psycho-motor development, listlessness and poor intellectual performance," said Dr Morgan.
She added: "Mothers must be educated about the nutritional needs of their infants early on." The false message that red meat is bad for you has been taken to heart, and some mothers think a red meat-free diet is appropriate for their children -- but it is difficult to supply the nutritional needs for iron of an infant without red meat."