Heavy metals in baby food! The headline alone is enough to terrify parents. We do our best to care for our children only to find out there are reported contaminants in food.
Take a breath. Here is the science behind the statements and why we aren’t running for the countryside to start our own organic farm.
In the recent American Academy of Pediatrics statement, they discuss the most common heavy metals found in food. According to the FDA, the most common heavy metals found in food are arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead.
Where are these metals originating? Heavy metals are a natural part of our environment. They are found in the Earth’s crust as well as the air, soil and water. Some of these metals are introduced into our foods by pollution as well. Manufacturing processes can also add exposure. Continued exposure to heavy metals can lead to developmental issues. This is only ONE factor that may contribute. Genetics, social and environmental factors all play a role in the developing brain.
How can you minimize your baby’s risk?
- Serve a variety of foods. Sticking with only a few foods may increase your baby’s exposure to heavy metals, especially if the foods served contain higher concentrations of a metal. For example, fortified rice cereal generally contains more arsenic than other grains because rice absorbs more from the Earth. Switch the rice for oat, barley, farro, quinoa or bulgur. The switch is likely better for the bowels as well.
- Read the labels. Make sure that the blended foods do not all contain the same first two ingredients. Allowing for more variety helps mitigate exposure. Baby food manufacturers are required to test the ingredients that go into a blend but not the resulting blend. Why is this important? If you add multiple ingredients containing an acceptable amount (based on FDA standards) of a metal, the result is additive. Therefore, individually the ingredients may be safe but cumulatively, they may prove to be above the accepted level.
- You can always make your own. Making your own can limit exposure related to manufacturing. It is still critical to offer a variety.
- Avoid fruit juices. Offer the whole fruit or purees instead. Fruit juice can contain more heavy metals and a ton of non-nutritional sugar. The exception to avoiding this is if we’ve directed you to give fruit juice to assist with stooling.
- Make healthy fish choices. Many fish contain a high level of mercury. Know your fish before you shop. The safest fish are: light tuna, cod, salmon, pollock and whitefish.
- Breastfeed if possible. The AAP recommends breastfeeding when possible for the first 6 months of life.
- Check for hazards in your home (including your habits). Are you vaping? Do you live in an older home? Is the paint chipping or peeling revealing the color choices from the early to mid 20th century? Let us know and we will closely monitor your child for lead exposure. Vaping can also expose children to cadmium as well as lead. The AAP has a website with helpful suggestions on lead exposure in the home.
Is organic better? While organic food decreases exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers, they still absorb the metals from the soil and water. So, when it comes to heavy metal exposure, organic is similar to conventional.