A recent study by Healthy Babies, Bright Futures examined 168 baby foods, (including 61 brands from 17 stores nationwide) and found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain heavy metals. One in four foods tested contain all four metals: arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
The concern is that continued exposure to heavy metals in developing brains can build over time. These metal contaminates can alter brain development, thereby reducing IQ points and changing behavior. Arsenic, cadmium, and lead are human carcinogens. Neither buying organic foods or making your own baby food decreases the risk as the heavy metals are present in our water and soil.
The issue of lead exposure has been widely publicized. This has led to decreased environmental exposure by removing lead from paint, fuels, and pesticides. Lead testing is routinely done at well visits. During the first two years of life, an American child will lose four times more IQ points from arsenic contamination than from lead contamination. Rice-based foods account for about a fifth of the total estimated IQ loss. The top offenders are rice-based products, teething biscuits, juices, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
You should be concerned, but don’t panic. This issue is not new. This issue of heavy metals in foods has been under investigation for a decade. These metals occur in all foods, not just baby foods. The metals occur naturally in our environment in the soil and water and can accumulate from pollution.
Unfortunately, none of us can entirely avoid them. Crops absorb the metals through the soil and water. They are present in our food supply. The concern is that these metals build up over time and repeated exposures. No one knows how much exposure to heavy metals in foods is harmful. The goal is to decrease the risk.
As parents, we want to minimize the risk to our children’s young developing brains. The best defense? Offer a varied diet. You can decrease your child’s exposure by avoiding rice-based cereals and snacks, teething biscuits, and juices. Instead offer rice-free cereals (such as oatmeal), rice-free snacks, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, including a limited amount of sweet potatoes and carrots (great sources of Vitamin A).
Use tap water. Bottled water is not safer than tap and leads to increased plastic waste. These safer choices contain 80 percent less heavy metals on average. Infants from birth to one year need to drink breast milk or formula. Infants younger than six months should not be offered water. From 12 to 24 months whole milk and water are recommended. After 24 months, low-fat or skim milk and water are recommended.
Although there are no safe levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, or mercury, we are seeing improvement. Arsenic contamination in rice cereal is 37 percent lower and in juice is 63 percent lower than ten years ago. This is progress. You can protect your family by avoiding high-risk foods. Offer your family a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains to minimize exposure to heavy metals.
Read more about feeding your infant in Raising Today’s Baby, Second Edition available on Amazon.
Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Norfolk and an asst. professor at ODU. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: 2nd Edition, is available on Amazon. For more info., visit RaisingTodaysChild.com, www.facebook.com/RaisingTodaysChild and www.twitter.com/Rzn2dayschild.