About Toxic Metals in Baby Foods

Recently, an organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures released a report regarding toxic metals found in 95% of 168 baby foods. The group tested for 4 toxic metals: lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in 61 brands, including organic, non-organic or conventional, large brands, and smaller niche brands. They tested 13 types of baby food: puffs & snacks, teething biscuits, rice cereal, whole grain and non-rice based infant cereals, fruit, veggies, mixed fruit & veg blends, meats, mixed dish meals, formula, apple juice, 100% fruit juice, and other drinks for toddlers/babies. And they tested baby foods purchased from around the nation at 14 metro areas and 17 retailers: Fred Meyer, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Whole Foods, 99c store, Target, Meijer, Kroger, Safeway, Walmart, Wegmans, Public, Buy Buy Baby.

The results of their test are alarming. They found that in 95% of foods tested, at least one in 4 metals was present, and many contained more than one metal. Additionally, 4 of 7 rice cereals contained excessive arsenic above FDA proposed limit. But the report reminded consumers that 88% of the foods tested lack any federal standards on maximum safe levels of toxic heavy metals.

The biggest culprit is rice-based foods such as infant rice cereal, rice dishes and rice-based snacks. They found that these rice-based foods are high in inorganic arsenic, which is the most toxic form of arsenic, but often tested positive for all four metals.

Other foods include apple, pear, and grape juices, and root vegetables such as sweet potato, and carrots. Juices contain traces of lead and arsenic, though not in levels as high as in other foods. However, since many children are given fruit juice through out the day, the exposure adds up. Additionally, evaporated juices are often used as a sweetener by food manufacturers in order to avoid using other sweeteners like corn syrup or sugar.

Carrots and sweet potatoes contain more lead and cadmium than other fruits and vegetables. You may have noticed that many baby food purees use sweet potatoes and carrots as a base for vegetable and fruit blends, or mixed dishes with baby meats.

The group also tested infant formula, and which metals were present, they were often low. That said, since babies and toddlers consume infant formula so regularly throughout the day, there is a call for food manufacturers and agencies like the FDA to look into infant formula and other foods.

So What Can Parents Do Today?

First, we should note that these metals occur naturally in our food supply and get into our food via the soil. So there’s no way to reduce exposure to absolute zero. That said, there are several steps that parents can take to reduce their child’s exposure.

We know this report has many parents worried and we have fielded several questions from you. Here is our advice to many common concerns…

What should parents do about baby formula?

HBBF notes “Milk and infant formula appear on the list not because of high metals levels — arsenic and lead concentrations are relatively low in both compared to some other types of baby food, according to HBBF and FDA tests — but because American children drink so much of them. These are nutritious foods, and there is no action needed by parents to change what they serve their children.” Since rice is one of the biggest offenders, you may want to search for a formula that does not use rice syrup or rice syrup solids.

Should I make my own baby food?

Sure! But again, since these metals are naturally occurring in all foods, even homemade baby food will have some. That said, if your homemade purees do not feature rice, sweet potatoes, or carrots in them, that will definitely reduce exposure.

I thought sweet potatoes and carrots were good for us?

They are! And we still feed them to our babies! In fact, they are some of our daughters’ favorite foods. But we don’t serve them every day or blend them into every meal. Variety is key!

I was told to start my baby on rice cereal. Now what?

So many parents are told this! You do not have to start your baby on rice cereal, and now, many pediatricians are shifting away from that advice because of arsenic concerns. You may find other whole grain cereals on the shelf, or simply blitz up some old-fashioned oats in a clean coffee or spice grinder to make your own baby oatmeal. But remember, you don’t have to start your baby on cereal, you can also offer fruits and vegetables and meats!

Chart from Healthy Babies Bright Future's Full Report

What else can I do?

Read the labels of your baby and toddler snacks! Opt for those that are NOT rice-based. Many puffs, melts, and bars can be found with other grain bases. Ditto on baby cereals! This will reduce exposure by 93%.

Instead of teething biscuits, try cold cucumber sticks (peeled and seeded), chilled or frozen banana bites, or cold cucumber strips for baby to gnaw on. Additionally, try cold or frozen teething rings, frozen damp washcloths, and chilled spoons to help ease teething pain and discomfort. This will reduce exposure by 91%.

Make your own baby food purees or, our personal favorite, dive into baby-led weaning. This naturally ensures more variety in baby’s diet, which helps to reduce exposure by 73%.

We really recommend that parents avoid giving fruit juice to their little one for a variety of reasons. Babies only need breastmilk or formula until 6 months old, and at the point, only water should be introduced. You may introduce whole cow’s milk after 12 months. We recommend those be the beverage offerings through 2 years of age. By avoid fruit juices, you reduce exposure to metals by 68%.

We want to keep things as easy as possible for you, so we created a free downloadable postcard of these ideas.

Contact food manufacturers and your elected officials! Got a favorite food item that is rice-based? Email that company and tell them you are a customer, and are concerned about this new report. Companies listen to their customers! They want your business and you vote with your fork and food dollars, so don’t feel like this is a futile effort.

Contact your elected representatives in Congress and ask them to investigate the findings and work with governing agencies like the FDA to help fix this problem.

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