Ptyalin – Why Babies Should Not Be Fed Starch?

It is pretty normal these days to start a baby on some solids at around 4-6 months. But don’t feel rushed at four months to quickly get them onto solids, as breastmilk (or formula) on its own is recommended for two more months.

However, in conflict to our supermarket shelves adorned with baby-rice, baby-porridge and baby-muesli, much old scientific knowledge warns sternly against feeding infants a diet rich in starchy farinaceous foods (e.g. rice, breads, potatoes, porridge, cereals, crackers, etc), as many believe they are simply the worst meals to feed young babies!

What is Ptyalin?

For almost 200 years, medical science has clearly understood that the amylase enzyme ‘ptyalin’ (pronounced ty-u-lin) contained within our saliva is a critical chemical involved in initiating the body’s digestive processes to break down starch into glucose sugars, and science knows that infants do not produce normal levels of ptyalin until they have a mouth full of teeth.

Why babies should not be fed starch?

With ptyalin missing from a baby’s saliva, two problematic bodily reactions commonly occur after feeding a baby starch:

  • The indigestible starch ‘ferments’, potentially causing numerous digestive disorders.
  • Mucous ‘thickens’, potentially causing ear, nose or throat problems.

Perhaps that is a plausible partial explanation for the epidemic and endemic levels of continual sore tummies, runny noses, recurring ear infections, tonsillitis, bronchiolitis and asthma that we now see prevalent in the developed world.

What about the Third World or Asian babies being fed rice and other staple starches? Why is it OK for them?

It’s an ironically simple answer: For thousands of years, mothers in these continents have always chewed their baby’s food first, before feeding it to their infant – unwittingly coating the baby’s food with the ptyalin enzyme from their own saliva. But getting back to Western medicine and its history…
In the 1800s, renowned surgeon and obstetrician Pye Henry Chavasse wrote, “I wish, then, to call your especial attention to the following facts, for they are facts – Farinaceous foods, of all kinds . . . are worse than useless – they are positively, injurious, they are, during the early period of infant life, perfectly indigestible . . . A baby’s salivary glands . . . does not secrete its proper fluid – namely, ptyalin, and consequently the starch of the farinaceous food is not converted . . . and is, therefore, perfectly indigestible and useless – nay, injurious to an infant”.
Since then there have been numerous other respected doctors, professors and scientists all saying the same thing, over and over and over again. Such as Prospiro Sonsino, Tilden, Routh, Huxley, Youmans, Dalton, Page, Densmore, to name but a few. However, in recent decades medicine and the science of nutrition seem to have ‘forgotten’ this knowledge.

Baby drinking milk

Dr. Page wrote, “Milk is the food for babies and contains all the elements necessary to make teeth, and until they are made, it should continue to be the sole food. It is not enough that two or three or a half dozen teeth have come through, that they should be expected to do any part of a grown child’s work. Upon no consideration should any of the farinaceous or starchy articles be added until the mouth bristles with teeth”.
Then, in the early to mid-1900s, rebel health pioneer and prolific writer Dr. Herbert Shelton focused on this subject too, when he wrote, “The fact that Nature makes no provisions for the digestion of starches before full dentition [growing of teeth], should be sufficient evidence that she does not intend it to form any part of the infant’s diet. Before the teeth are fully developed the saliva of the infant contains a mere trace of ptyalin, the digestive ferment or enzyme that converts starch into sugar . . . Certain it is that nature did not intend the baby to chew food until its teeth are sufficiently developed to perform this function . . . No starchy foods or cereals should be given under two years”.
This is such important knowledge, I truly cannot begin to fathom why, with such massive indisputable scientific evidence, our society remains so obsessed with starchy baby foods – and the equally nonsensical belief that carbohydrate starches should be the main staple of all infants’ ongoing diet.
Is it all rubbish and lies, yet again? Is it some mad commercial greed for money? Who knows? In some ways it is reminiscent of how completely accepted cigarettes were half a century ago, when most people genuinely did not understand – simply because they were not told – that smoking was damaging their health.
So OK, I hear some readers wondering, if we don’t feed our infants baby rice, baby cereal, baby porridge, mashed potato, kumara, bread, pasta, noodles, crackers, biscuit, rusks, and other starch – then what the heck do we feed a baby instead? It’s such an easy answer: primarily vegetables and fruit – topped up with some protein. Within my book OH BABY…Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored there is a detailed age-appropriate suggested menu.
Obviously there are loads of ‘experts’ who may disagree with some of the menu’s aspects – for today there is only one thing that all nutritionists can agree on, and that is that there are opponents to all opinions of what nutrition is best practice.

Kathy Fray

Kathy Fray is a senior Midwife, who's been a best-selling birth/babies/motherhood Author at Penguin-Random for the past 1.5 decades. Managing Director of resources and services, Kathy is also Founding Director of IIMHCO [Intl Integrative Maternity HealthCare Org] who are the global thought-leaders on holistic perinatal medicine.

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