Meat, such as pork, can be an important source of much-needed protein in an infant’s diet during the transition to solid foods, according to new research from the University of Colorado, Denver, Colo. In fact, the first 6-12 months of life is a period of rapid growth when nutrition plays a pivotal role, and for many moms, meat may not be the first choice for an infant’s complementary feeding. Yet, this new research suggests meat-fed infants (complementary to formula or breastfeeding) could have an advantage when it comes to early length growth.
“Meat, such as pork, provides important micronutrients, is an excellent source of protein and can be an important complementary food for infants who are ready for solid foods,” says lead study author Minghua Tang, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado. “Our research suggests introducing higher amounts of protein and introducing meat, such as pork, into the diet at 5 months could be potentially beneficial for linear growth (length gain).” 
In the study, 64 healthy, formula-fed infants ate meat-based complementary foods, such as pureed ham and beef, or dairy-based complementary foods from ages 5-12 months old, increasing protein intake from 2 grams of protein per kilogram each day before the study up to 3 grams per kilogram each day during the study period. While the protein increased, both calories and fat intakes stayed the same between the meat and dairy groups, regardless of protein source. Researchers found the pureed meats promoted a greater rate of growth – with length of nearly 1 inch greater compared to the dairy-fed group at 12 months of age, with no increase in risk of being overweight at the completion of the 7-month study. These findings build upon previous research demonstrating meat-based complementary foods promoted increases in length without excessive weight gain among breastfeed infants.
While more research is needed to understand the potential long-term impacts of including meat, such as pork, in infant diets for growth, the benefits of pork in the diet overall are extensive.
“This research is particularly exciting because it shows nutrient-rich pork can play an important role in the whole family’s diet,” says Adria Huseth, registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communications and research at National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s nutrient-rich, as well as a versatile, affordable and accessible protein.”