It is natural for a parent to want to provide their baby with the best they can find, and food is no exception. It is widely believed that baby food is strictly regulated and supposed to undergo more rigorous safety testing. However, it appears that the industry leaves much to be desired: heavy metals were detected in many baby foods, and the levels are concerning.
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Isn’t baby food carefully regulated?
It is now widely known that fish can contain quite a lot of mercury, rice can be laden with arsenic, and contamination of water with lead is not infrequent. Baby food is still food, and since there is no special regulation of the field, it is prone to the same flaws seen in foods for the general population. Baby food is made with the same plants and meats used for other products, and even the organic label does not guarantee a particular food is ultimately safe.
However frustrating and surprising it may be, foods fed to the most vulnerable are not regulated specially: it is only recently that the FDA announced it is considering introduction of new standards that would require all baby foods to be much safer. As of this moment, baby food is not devoid of heavy metals.
Are food and water contaminants dangerous?
Elevated levels of contaminant heavy metals are linked to higher risk of autism, hyperactivity, lower IQ, and other health problems.
A team of scientists from Duke University carried out a study which found that exposure to lead is associated with poorer cognitive performance: of all the 565 adults who were enrolled in the study, those who had higher levels of lead when they were children had IQ levels lower than those who had less lead in their body. The average IQ level among them was 4.25 lower.
Arsenic is another dangerous heavy metal which is routinely detected in foods, including baby foods. There are different forms of arsenic, and inorganic arsenic is what poses the most significant risk. Exposure to it also was linked to poorer IQ scores, as a study undertaken by scientists from Columbia University showed. According to them, children who drank water with high arsenic levels lost 5 to 6 points of IQ due to it. The students who participated in the study were in third to fifth grade.
These pieces of scientific evidence are not the only ones that prove exposure to heavy metals increases the risk of various health problems. The body does need zinc and iron, but these metals are different. Conversely, lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium are contaminants which should be avoided. If consumed on a regular basis, heavy metals build up in organs–with the kidneys being one of the primary targets–increasing the risk of cancer, diabetes, reproductive problems, etc.
What baby foods are dangerous?
A recently published Consumer Reports study highlighted the need for stricter regulation of the baby food industry. In their report, they listed the 50 products they tested, including packaged fruits, veggies, entrées and snacks, and baby cereals. These included Gerber, Beech-Nut, Ella’s Kitchen, Earth’s Best, Sprouts, Organics, and several other brands.
Here is the summary of their findings:
- 34 foods proved to contain higher-than-normal amounts of arsenic, cadmium and lead; 15 foods turned out to be dangerous, because if as little as one serving a day is consumed, it can have detrimental effects on baby health.
- 2 rice cereals had methylmercury in them, and while the amount was not that high, it is still an overlooked source of heavy metals.
- Snacks fared the worst, mostly due to containing a lot of rice, which is often contaminated with arsenic.
Here is the chart by CR, in which more and less concerning baby foods are listed.
What can I do as a parent?
The very fact of your baby consuming small amounts of heavy metals does not mean they will inevitably develop something serious. However, these chemicals may elevate disease risk, so it is advised to avoid them.
To reduce your baby’s intake of these chemicals, you can do the following.
- Cut on the amount of rice eaten by your child.
- Opt for safer rice types. One of these is the white basmati rice.
- Packaged snacks cannot be considered healthy foods, for many reasons: they are more likely to contain concerning levels of the chemicals in question, and there is added sugar, which is also not beneficial.
- Opt for more healthy whole foods in your child’s diet (bananas, beans, eggs, cheese, apples, etc.)
Remember: most packaged foods are inferior to whole foods, so if you have such an opportunity, cook daily and let your family members enjoy healthy food. Choose foods for cooking wisely.
Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Cognitive Function and Socioeconomic Status at Age 38 Years and With IQ Change and Socioeconomic Mobility Between Childhood and Adulthood – jamanetwork.com
U.S. Schoolchildren Exposed to Arsenic in Well Water Have Lower IQ Scores – mailman.columbia.edu
Heavy Metals in Baby Food: What You Need to Know – consumerreports.org