“What’s in My Baby’s Food?”

by Rachel Rothman, Registered Dietitian 

In October, a non-profit group called Healthy Babies Bright Futures released a new report titled, “What’s in my Baby’s food?”  The group tested 168 baby foods, and found 95% of these contained heavy metals (such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury).  Many of the products tested contained multiple of these heavy metals.  We know that increased exposure to some heavy metals have been linked to harmful consequences such as mental retardation, neurocognitive disorders, behavioral disorder and respiratory problems.

Let’s decode the report a bit so you have the pertinent information and recommendations.

Why were these metals found?

These heavy metals are found naturally in soil, and crops such as rice, sweet potato and carrots (those that are grown in the soil) tend to absorb more of these heavy metals than others.  Because rice is grown in water, heavy metals in rain or water supplies can also have a more pronounced impact on rice than other crops.  Organic product evaluations do not screen for soil quality, so the heavy metal content may be similar for organic as well as conventional items, if grown in similar areas.  Much of the challenge is that the FDA does not have codified safety standards for heavy metals in foods.

What were the biggest culprits?

Heavy metals were the most prevalent in the following: fruit juices, rice products (such as rice puffs, teething biscuits and rice cereal), and products with root vegetables such as carrot and sweet potatoes.  We have known that rice contains arsenic for some time, and the report shows this remains the case.

What can parents do?

We can’t entirely eliminate heavy metals without controlling the airborne and waterborne mineral levels in all of the cultivated crops we use to produce our food.  Unless you are growing all of your own food and testing your own soil, some exposure is likely.  What we can do is try to reduce that exposure.

These are things you can do to help reduce exposure to these heavy metals:

  • Choose rice-free snacks and cereals. There are many options when it comes to snacks.  Choose those that have lower amounts of rice, and rice flour.  For example, there are several are oat-based alternatives to the ubiquitous rice puffs.  Encourage whole food based snacks like hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Limit fruit juice. If you are providing juice, dilute it into water, or better yet just serve water or milk.
  • Provide a variety of fruits and vegetables. We know that variety of whole foods goes a long way.  Although carrots and sweet potatoes are a great source of nutrients, parents have so many options when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  There is nothing wrong with providing carrots and sweet potatoes, but include these alongside a variety of others.

Rachel is a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert specializing in working with children and families.  Rachel owns a private nutrition practice, Nutrition in Bloom, where she works with children and families to provide feeding guidance and evidence-based nutrition recommendations.  She teaches infant and toddler feeding classes throughout San Diego County and online, and helps parents and caregivers feel less stressed and more empowered when it comes to feeding their children.  For more on Rachel visit her website, https://nutritioninbloom.com/, or find her on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nutritioninbloom) or instagram (https://www.instagram.com/nutrition.in.bloom/).

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