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Posted on: October 23, 2019 at 6:21 pm
Last updated: October 24, 2019 at 9:24 am

According to a report published by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), 95 percent of baby foods tested in the United States contain toxic heavy metals [1].

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HBBF is a group composed of non-profit organizations, scientists, and donors, and their goal is to reduce babies’ exposure to toxic chemicals in their first 1,000 days of development [2].

The chemicals present included arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium, which are neurotoxins that can permanently alter a baby’s developing brain, reduce IQ, and even affect mood and behavior.

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The findings are of specific concern because babies are more vulnerable to the toxic impacts of such metals, as they aren’t yet fully developed [3]. Here’s what you need to know about these startling findings!

Which Foods Were the Worst Offenders?

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HBBF tested 168 different baby food containers across 61 brands in 13 different food types. The brands included major manufacturers in the United States, including Gerber, Plum Organics, Beech-Nut, and more. Out of the foods tested, they found that:

  • 73 percent contained arsenic
  • 94 percent contained lead
  • 75 percent contained cadmium
  • 32 percent contained mercury

In addition, 26 percent of all foods tested contained all four metals in a single container. There are three foods of primary concern for parents, the report notes.

  1. Rice products were the worst offenders, as they have high levels of inorganic arsenic, which is the most toxic form of arsenic [4]. In addition, rice products almost always contained traces of all four metals as opposed to other foods tested.
  2. Sweet potatoes also topped the list for causing harm to the developing brain due to their heavy metal content. Sweet potatoes retain more metals than many other fruits and veggies due to their status as a root vegetable.
  3. Juice—apple, as well as other fruit juices, topped the list because babies and toddlers tend to drink these more often and contain trace amounts of arsenic and lead. 

How Heavy Metals Impact Growing Children

Even in trace amounts, these heavy metals can affect the developing brain of a child, according to the report.

For example, research shows that children exposed to arsenic via drinking water scored significantly lower on tests than did children with much lower exposure to arsenic [5].

In addition, even low exposure to arsenic in utero can impact the development of the baby’s immune system [6]. And lead and cadmium concentration in the blood has been associated with developmental delays in children [7].

We also know that mercury exposure, even at low levels, can impact memory, cognitive skills, language, and attention in children [8]. And arsenic has been linked to brain damage and adverse cognitive effects in children as well [9].

Organic Isn’t the Answer This Time

Many parents might think they can simply reach for organic baby food and it’ll be safe from these four heavy metals. But unfortunately, organic isn’t the answer here.

Heavy metals occur naturally in the environment, and can also form as the result of pollution [10]. As such, foods grown in soil can absorb the metals, and they can even be absorbed through the water as well. So organic and non-organic foods, as we’ve seen in the tested products by HBBF, both contain heavy metals.

Even organic milk products were found to have high arsenic levels. So what can be done?

The report says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other experts suggest growing rice in fields with lower arsenic levels in the soil. Because inorganic arsenic in rice is a major source of toxins for children, the FDA needs to act immediately to establish a limit for this chemical in these foods.

HBBF also calls for the manufacturers of products as well as the FDA to take action to not only set safe limits for these foods but to provide safer products for our children.

5 Steps Parents Can Take to Limit Their Infant’s Exposure

The report outlines five different choices parents can make to reduce their child’s exposure to toxic metals from baby food by 80 percent. These steps include:

  1. Instead of puff snacks (which are made of rice): choose rice-free snacks such as oatmeal, pureed veggies, avocado, or even salmon, all of which can provide essential nutrients to your baby.
  2. Instead of teething biscuits: choose cool or partially frozen foods such as cucumber or banana, which you can put in mesh teething products to make safer for your baby.
  3. Instead of rice cereal: choose other multi-grain cereals including quinoa or oats.
  4. Instead of juice: choose water. Juice is mostly sugar without the fiber, and can contribute to tooth decay as well!
  5. Instead of carrots and sweet potatoes: choose a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Since these root veggies are more likely to contain heavy metals, having a variety of foods is important. You can still include these in your child’s diet, just in moderation!

Choosing whole foods as opposed to processed foods can help parents avoid many of the products that contain heavy metals!

How Else to Limit Your Baby’s Exposure

Unfortunately, white rice is better than brown rice when it comes to arsenic. Since brown and wild rice have their husk intact, whereas white rice has it stripped it off, white rice helps to lower arsenic exposure [11]

If you still choose to eat rice, consider cooking your rice in more water than usual and pour the extra water off before eating—HBBF says this can reduce arsenic levels in the product by 60 percent. Looking for a high-quality brand of rice that tests their products for heavy metals helps as well. 

You can also make your own baby foods at home with pureed veggies and fruits to avoid some baby foods that may contain carrots or sweet potatoes in many of their products. Remember—rice and juice are big culprits, but so are root vegetables. Variety is often your best bet so that your baby gets a range of nutrients and isn’t eating too much of one thing!

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Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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