What to Know About Heavy Metals in Baby Food

  • A study from Consumer Reports found that heavy metals can still be found in many baby food products.
  • Products including rice, sweet potatoes and carrots can contain these ingredients.
  • Experts say parents shouldn’t panic and can take steps to reduce the risk of children consuming foods with heavy metals.

A concerning amount of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead can still be found in many baby foods including rice and rice products, sweet potatoes, and carrots, according to the latest testing from Consumer Reports.

This report is a follow-up to 2018 testing that found 33 of the 50 foods to be associated with potential health risks for children due to combined exposure from those three heavy metals.

The latest test included 14 products including a mix of fruits and vegetables, meals and snacks such as bars, puffs and teething wafers.

While some baby foods and products now show lower levels of heavy metals, others are showing higher levels. Overall, the risk of heavy metal exposure has stayed fairly consistent over the years, according to the report.

This new finding comes despite ongoing pressure on food manufacturers to reduce heavy metals in food crops and make “safer” products or food products with lower levels of heavy metals.

Eric Boring, PhD, a Consumer Reports chemist who oversaw the testing explains in the report that because heavy metals are so pervasive in foods, and because they tend to accumulate in the body, small exposures from multiple foods can add up.

“And feeding your child amounts close to the daily serving limits leaves little room for exposure to heavy metals from other foods,” he adds.

Maya Deyssenroth, DrPH, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health says in the report that the health risks associated with long-term heavy metal exposure include increased risk of a variety of health and developmental problems in young children , including a lower IQ and behavioral issues, as well as ADHD, autism, and other issues.

The risk, though, should not be a cause for panic, according to Boring.

Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California tells Healthline parents can reduce risk by learning more about heavy metals and becoming more educated consumers.

“There are very helpful websites for parents to explore,” he says.

Ganjian points to the Consumer Reports site, but also suggests the Healthy Babies Bright Futures and the Clean Label Project.

Practical tips for parents

Ganjian tells Healthline that some ways to reduce risk of exposure to heavy metals in baby foods include:

  • Choosing foods with lower levels of heavy metals
  • Changing the consumption quantity or frequency of certain products (less often or limited amounts)
  • Providing a wide variety of foods daily

What this looks like in everyday life will vary from household to household. In any case, Ganjian suggests avoiding rice and rice products as much as possible. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic than other grains, according to the FDA, but can still be considered a part of a healthy diet.

“Rice or rice products once a week is fine,” says Ganjian.

Cinthia Scott, RD, IBCLC, is a pediatric dietitian, lactation counselor, and owner of the Baby Dietitian.

Scott tells Healthline she encourages parents to avoid rice-based snacks if they want to decrease the risk of heavy metal exposure. “Organic snacks from Little Bellies are non-rice based and are great for babies 7 months and older,” she says.

Other options exist, too. Brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rices, Scott pointed out.

For households where rice is a staple food, the FDA suggests cook the rice like pasta. This means boiling the rice in a large amount of water (6 to 10 parts water to 1 part rice) and then draining the excess water.

The FDA adds that using this rice cooking method can reduce arsenic levels by some 40-60% but also results in reduced nutritional content of enriched or parboiled rice. Nutrients lost include folate, iron, niacin, and thiamine.

Ganjian also suggests parents limit the total amount of sweet potatoes and carrots. Instead, opt for vegetables with lower levels of heavy metals.

Ganjian says the following foods are considered “low heavy metal” foods:

  • Fruit (fresh or frozen, but not canned)
  • Baby food brand fruits
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Butternut squash
  • Cucumber, chilled and peeled
  • Frozen bananas
  • Meat (either baby food brand, or soft or pureed and home-cooked)
  • Beans
  • eggs
  • Infant formulas
  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Grapes, cut into smaller pieces
  • Yogurt

Consumer Reports also advises parents to limit apple juice and grape juice in their children’s diet as they are also known to have high levels of heavy metals and are considered non-essential food items.

“The great news is that our heavy metal detectors are becoming much more sensitive at detecting low levels of toxins,” says Ganjian. “Companies see that parents are concerned, so they are actively looking for ways to reduce the levels of heavy metals.”

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