Heavy Metals in Baby Food – What Parents Should Know & Do

As a parent, one would only want the best for their child, especially when it comes to food. So it is perfectly right to consider findings from reports that suggest that several baby products could contain elevated levels of metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic. High levels of heavy metals in baby food have been a major cause of concern in recent years.

Data about products from major food companies by the US subcommittee of Economic and Consumer Policy requires stricter regulations and considerations about baby food products and responsibilities from manufacturers. Infants and baby babies are sensitive to contaminants like lead and arsenic. Exposure to small amounts of these metals has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Studies have linked it to cancer, reproductive problems, diabetes, and cognitive issues when consumed over time. While parents have reason to be concerned, it is also impossible to expect to eat a completely contaminant-free diet as these exist in the environment.

What Do Heavy Metals Do to Babies? 

New reports indicating the presence of heavy metals in infant food can leave a lot of parents baffled and worried. Regardless of whether in low or high quantities, the presence of heavy metals in newborn food can be a cause for concern. Toxic metal exposure of any kind, especially internal, could have damaging effects on the development of the brain in babies. Consumption of food containing metal content has been linked to problems with children’s behavior, learning, and cognition.

Although genetic, social, and environmental factors play a key role in the development of the brain, any parent would question if heavy metals in baby food harm my baby? The answer is yes. There is a certain amount of risk involved in consuming food that contains metal to the development of the brain in a baby. Studies have also linked food consumption with heavy metals to cancer risk and delay in growth and development.

Which Foods Contain Heavy Metals

Heavy metals can be found in water, soil, and the air we breathe. Plants consume these metals as they grow, and we as human beings can end up consuming them. Human bodies do need a certain amount of heavy metals like zinc, iron to function effectively. However, certain heavy metals like arsenic and lead could be harmful. Certain crops like rice could absorb these harmful metals compared to others and build up in the body over time. Consumption of these metals could lead to problems in behavior, attention span, and learning.

Some companies that manufacture baby food add vitamins and minerals along with food additives that could contain heavy metals. Research has proven that certain kinds of baby food contain higher levels of heavy metals than others. Some of these baby foods that contain heavy metals are:

1. Infant Rice Cereal 

Rice is often considered to contain metals like arsenic. It is said that this occurs due to the water content used for irrigation.

2. Infant Rice Puff Snacks 

Again, snacks that contain rice carry the same danger of containing arsenic because of how the rice is cultivated.

3. Teething Biscuits and Rice Rusks 

Teething biscuits are made with additives that help to relieve pain that occurs as a natural process. This, in turn, could be detrimental to the health of the baby.

4. Fruit Juice 

Many canned juices contain heavy metals. Apart from contaminated elements, they also increase the risk of cavities and obesity.

5. Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

Tubers also tend to contain metals that occur owing to growing under the ground.

Toxic metals in baby food can be found in organic baby foods, too; however, the crucial phrase to be noted here is “high levels.” Certain foods with low levels are not considered harmful by the Food and Drug Authority. However, when the levels exceed the permissible limit, it is considered dangerous to the baby’s development.

How Do Heavy Metals Get Into Baby Food? 

Now that you are aware that certain foods contain heavy metals, you may also wonder what causes the heavy metal in baby food? If metals are found in the earth, air, and water, how do they make their way into baby food? Well, there are many ways in which it can get into baby food. Metals are released into the environment via pollution and can contaminate food.

Metals can also get into food via manufacturing and packaging. Even if a particular food is organic, it does not mean that it is free of heavy metals. Heavy metals can make their way even in the organic soil. Contaminated water is one of the main reasons for metal presence in soil. Materials used in packaging and food processing can also cause food contamination, and heavy metals can enter into food products.

How to Avoid Heavy Metals in My Baby’s Diet

Even though one cannot eliminate the presence of metal content in baby food, there are a few things that one can do as a parent to avoid the consumption of heavy metals. A few handy tips are:

1. Eat a Healthy and Varied Diet 

Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are packed with carbohydrates and other essential nutrients, but because they grow in the soil, they can also contain higher levels of heavy metals. It is important to substitute their food plate with different vegetables, especially leafy greens, avocados, and fresh fruits like berries.

2. Restrict the Amount of Rice 

Rice products often test high on arsenic content. Try to limit the intake of rice cereal or teething biscuits, which are made from rice. This will reduce the risk of exposure.

3. Check and Read Labels 

Make sure to read the ingredients before offering them to your baby. Foods with multiple ingredients are a good option, but some could have the same first and second ingredients. Foods with different blends of flavor could have potatoes as their first ingredient. So the best thing is to read the label before offering it to your baby.

4. Mix and Match Grains 

Fortified infant cereals are a good source of nutrition, but rice cereal does not need to be the only one to be offered. Rice grains tend to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than any other crops. So, you could include a variety of grains in your baby’s diet – try to include barley, oat, quinoa, bulgur wheat, farro, and couscous. Opt for multi-grain infant cereals.  Avoid rice milk or brown rice syrup, which tend to be used as sweeteners in processed foods for toddlers.

5. Test Your Water 

Food is not the only way that your baby will consume heavy metals. Water is also a potential source and carrier of lead. Old pipes can contain lead which can contaminate your drinking water. Try to get your pipes inspected and make the necessary arrangements to get them changed. If you are using the water for cooking food for your baby from scratch, that could cause concern, as it could carry metals into the food while being cooked.

6. Go for Healthy Fish Options 

Fish is very good for your baby and contains all the essential nutrients for the overall development of the brain. Some fish can, however, contains mercury. Try not to consume large, predatory fish that live long, like albacore tuna, shark, and swordfish. Choose fish like light tuna, Pollock, salmon, and cod.

What Brands of Baby Food Have Heavy Metals? 

The Food and Development Authority report about heavy metals in baby food was based on information on reports from products of four major companies or brands. The brands identified were Beech-Nut, Gerber, Hain, and Nurture. Lead, cadmium, and arsenic were found in the baby food manufactured, packaged, and sold by these companies. Mercury was found in baby products sold by Nurture.

Such reports do sound scary. But pediatricians have said that there is no major cause for worry. While findings highlight the need for stricter regulations and controls, it is still believed that store-bought baby food is quite safe and healthy. Switching from store-bought or processed food to completely homemade food does not guarantee a meal entirely free from metals and chemicals. Metals and unwanted chemicals do make their way into our food through the environment and packaging. The key is not to panic, and one must try to strike a balance in the food offered to the baby. It is vital to say “no” to the foods which could be potentially harmful and try to improve the variety of food offered to babies.

Also Read:

Introducing First Food to Baby
Introducing Solid Food to Infants
How to Prepare & Store Baby Food at Home

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