Heavy metals in baby food? What parents should know and do – Harvard Health Blog

If there’s anything you can trust to be sure of, it should be baby food, right?

Well… maybe not.

A report from the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform indicates that commercial baby foods are contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

Which baby food companies are involved?

The report was based on information from just four companies that make baby food: Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber. Arsenic, lead and cadmium have been found in baby foods from all companies; mercury was found in the food of the only company that tested it (Nurture).

It should be noted that three other companies (Walmart, Sprout and Campbell’s Soup) were asked to provide the same information on their baby food products, and did not.

And that’s part of the problem: it’s just one report, with limited information. It’s hard to know exactly what this means about commercial baby food in general, but it’s a report we need to take seriously, as these four heavy metals can affect the developing brain. And when you damage the brain as it grows, the damage can be permanent.

Does organic baby food contain heavy metals?

It’s important to note that organic baby foods aren’t necessarily better, in large part because a lot of them contain brown rice. Many rice plants naturally contain arsenic, and brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice. Over the past few years, we have come to understand the problem of arsenic in rice, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the FDA recommend limiting the consumption of rice for babies.

What steps can parents take to make sure baby food is safe and healthy?

The FDA is working to improve the oversight and regulation of heavy metals in commercial baby foods. In the meantime, it’s almost impossible to know which ones are completely safe and which aren’t. Babies do not need solid foods until they are 6 months old. At this time, it is quite normal to give them soft table food instead of baby food. You can also make your own baby food, using steamed or naturally soft foods and a blender. (Storage tip: You can pour homemade mash into an ice cube tray and freeze it, then simply collect the cubes you need each time.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggestions for families to help reduce their children’s exposure to heavy metals in their food and drink:

  • Give your child a wide variety of different foods (the more natural the colors, the better).
  • Vary the grains. As mentioned above, it is best to limit rice and rice products (check labels – rice is present in many foods marketed for babies, like “puffs”). Try barley, oats, and other grains. When cooking rice, it is best to cook it in additional water and drain it, and use white basmati rice and sushi rice, which contain less arsenic.
  • Check your water. Old pipes can contain lead, which can get into drinking water.
  • Avoid fruit juices. Not only can they increase the risk of cavities and obesity, many commercial juices also contain heavy metals.
  • Make healthy fish choices. Fish contains very healthy nutrients for the developing brain, but some fish can contain unhealthy amounts of mercury. Stay away from large predatory and long-lived fish like swordfish, sharks or albacore; it is better to choose fish such as cod, light tuna, salmon or pollock.

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Jothi Venkat

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