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Whoa Baby! Even Some Baby Food is Acidic!

We heard about a baby with reflux who was on antireflux medication and so we wondered — Could there be acid in baby food, too? We tested 30 baby foods (Gerber, Beech Nut, and Earth’s Best brands). We were interested in whether organic baby foods were less acidic than those that were processed, and we were surprised to find that some of the “organic” baby foods had added citric acid as a preservative.

Before telling you the results of the testing, I would like to convey to you an insight  I had relatively recently.  A few weeks ago, I had sitting in my office a beautiful 20-year-old singer who likely will be performing on Broadway someday soon, but her reflux had been so bad that she had to have reflux surgery (just two weeks prior to her visit to me).  When she came in, she was smiling ear to ear, “My voice has never been better.” I thought to myself why would a 20-year-old healthy woman with good habits and a good diet have such bad reflux? Then, she turned and said to me, “ALL my friends have reflux.” At that moment, it hit me that there are generations of refluxers.  I, as a baby boomer, was a “first generation refluxer.”  I didn’t start getting exposed to the food supply acidity, saturated fat, etc. until my college years. This 20-year-old, however, was born in 1990, and all she ever had experienced as a “second generation refluxer” was acid, acid, and more acid in almost everything that she ate and drank.  Now, babies are born as “third generation refluxers.”  For this new generation, virtually everything, including even some of  the “organic” labeled  baby foods have acid added.  What’s organic about adding citric or ascorbic acid?  Is it just that it comes from citrus?  Let’s help  protect our babies by limiting the acidity of their food intake. That’s what prompted this post on the acidity of baby food.

Greg Van Horn, my assistant, testing the pH of baby foods.

We went to three grocery stores, and we were a little surprised that there were only three brands of prepared baby food (Gerber, Earth’s Best, and Beech Nut). We tested 30 bottles/cartons containing fruit, vegetables, pasta, meat, and starches. All of the pH measurements were made using a Minilab ISFET pH meter (Model IQ128 with Silicon Chip Sensor, Pulse Instruments, Carlsbad CA). The pH meter was carefully cleaned between measurements; it was noted that the device returned to neutral pH before making the next measurement.

Results

We tested the pH of the three brands, Gerber, Earth’s Best, and Beech Nut Baby Foods. These were all prepared foods, and thus we were concerned about the “Title 21 effect,” the adding of acid as a preservative to discourage bacterial growth; see “The Missing Link” in this blog for more on Title 21. First, there is acid added to “organic” baby foods. I guess that this is considered organic by the manufacturer, because it is citric acid. It is not, however, in the interest of reflux. To me, organic means the food is unadulterated!  Second, some of the fruit is just acidic by itself. Green apples have a pH below 4.0, so some of the truly organic apple sauce also is acidic. Here’s the message: your baby can have apple sauce sometimes, but it should not be a staple of her/his diet. Feed your baby low-acid foods to the greatest extent possible, especially if she/he has reflux. Finally, there is consideration for fat content. Thankfully, all of the baby foods we tested except for the Beech Nut Macaroni and Cheese were low in saturated fats.

Top 10 baby Foods for Reflux That We Tested (Obviously we couldn’t test them all)

Brand Description pH Acids Added
Gerber Green Beans 5.9 None
Gerber Squash 5.9 None
Beech Nut Turkey Rice Dinner 5.7 None
Beech Nut Mixed Vegetables 5.7 None
Earth’s Best Organic Garden Vegetables 5.4 None
Gerber Chicken Noodle 5.3 Folic Acid
Earth’s Best Organic Spinach & Potatoes 5.3 None
Beech Nut Corn & Sweet Potatoes 5.3 None
Earth’s Best Organic Corn & Butternut Squash 5.3 None
Gerber Sweet Potatoes 5.2 None

Bottom 10 baby Foods for Reflux That We Tested

Brand Description pH Acids Added
Gerber Applesauce 3.7 Ascorbic Acid
Gerber Apple Blueberry 3.7 Ascorbic Acid
Earth’s Best Organic First Apples 3.8 Ascorbic Acid
Beech Nut Applesauce 3.9 Ascorbic Acid
Beech Nut Pears & Raspberries 3.9 Ascorbic Acid
Gerber Pears 4.0 Ascorbic and Citric Acid
Gerber Prunes 4.0 None
Gerber Peaches 4.0 Ascorbic Acid
Beech Nut Rice Cereal and Apples with Cinnamon 4.0 Ascorbic, Citric, and Folic Acid
Beech Nut Oatmeal & Apples 4.0 Ascorbic, Citric, and Folic Acid

In summary, we recommend that babies generally be fed foods with a pH of greater than 5. having more acidic food sometimes is okay, but not as a regular diet.

Click here for a printable PDF listing of the results of all the baby foods we tested

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18 Comments

  1. This acid business is not very good news for parents of small children. So, did you test any baby formulas? If not, it would be nice if you could. BTW, I am buying your book for all of my friends! Good luck.

  2. Dear Global Fruitfly,

    We tested Enfamil, Similac, Nestle Good Start, and Earth’s Best Organic Formula, and they were all about pH 7. Isn’t that amazing! Someone somewhere must know that acid isn’t so great for babies. But most infants are eating acidic baby food by three months of age. We think babies should not eat foods pH <5 as a regular diet.

  3. Wow!
    Very eye-opening. I have an article that I wrote several years ago about possible corn allergies in babies who react to manufactured formulas. Many of the moms chose to make homemade formulas to cure their babies, most of which suffered from reflux issues. This is important information. Thanks for sharing.
    Caryn

  4. We only tested a few formulas and didn’t find them to be acidic; see comment above. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some formulas that are acidified to prolong shelf life.

    Knowing what we now know, if I had an infant or child with reflux, I would purchase a pH meter and test everything that I fed my child. We used a Minilab ISFET pH meter (Pulse Instruments, Carlsbad CA).

  5. My 7.5 mos old has had reflux but was fine with it being untreated and on Alimentum. Recently, after starting solids, it seems like the reflux is starting up and he is now on a low dose of zactac. We are using Plum Organics and just realized there is citric acid and lemon juice in most of the foods. Ugh. Did you test Plum? Thanks for this research.

  6. Dear Rachel,

    We did not test Plum Organics. Their products aren’t available at any of our local health food stores.

    Here is a link again to the complete list of baby foods we tested: Baby Food pH

    As you can see, the trend shows that when citric and ascorbic acid are added, the pH is much lower. Though we can’t speak towards Plum’s products, this is something to keep in mind.

    If you haven’t checked it out already, you might be interested in our post, The Missing Link.

    It begins a discussion on how our diet became acidified and is an excerpt from a more detailed chapter in our book, Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure.

  7. Thanks so much – going to follow the ‘safe foods’ and see what happens. Really appreciate your thoughts.

  8. Thanks for the info! ~ mama of a 6 month old, just started solid foods and wondered why some organic baby foods add the citric acid.

  9. Where can you buy a pH meter similiar to the one you used in your experiment? Do you know if they sell them at a local store, Wal-Mart, Target , etc? Thanks, this was very helpful because I have a 6 month old baby and I was wondering why she had a rash when I gave her applesause.

  10. PH meters are available from Amazon.

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  16. I found this article very initrmaofve. I am going to try the apple cider vinegar diluted w/meal to see what happens. What I am not seeing in any of these articles is that not all people have actual heartburn. I have almost constant burning in my throat, nose, eyes and around my mouth. I have been on Nexium twice daily for 14 months. I still suffer everyday. I have had 2 endoscopies, one with Bravo and was refluxing at a 35. However they say when I took the PPI it brought it right down to normal. I still always have burning. Are there other people out there who like me do not suffer from heartburn but are refluxing?

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  18. While this is interesting and informative, I would like to point out that acid reflux is not always caused by acid. Acid reflux for both myself and my husband was cured after one week on the Whole30. I am in no way affiliated with the Whole30, but I am a believer, since both our reflux, my migraines, his high blood pressure, and my chronic constipation, bloating and gas were all cured by eating whole foods, eliminating chemicals, sugar, legumes, dairy, alcohol, and grains. We now eat a paleo diet, which is similar, but allows a few more foods than the Whole30 allows. Our babies should be eating this way as well. Feed them real, whole foods, not refined food-like substances. Not preaching. Just hoping some others will find relief from digestive and other issues. Remember the wise words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Thanks for reading this. :)

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