Recent news about arsenic levels in baby foods – particularly rice cereal, a common first solid food for babies – may have you concerned. No parent wants to find out the food they thought was safe and nourishing could possibly put their child at risk.
In today's information and media-saturated environment, it's hard to know if everything you read and hear is accurate and from a credible source. Ray Tsai, M.D., Senior Vice President of Dallas Market Operations at Children's Health℠ Pediatric Group, sorts out what you need to know about arsenic in baby food.
The truth about arsenic
Arsenic is a common metal found naturally in the environment. There are two types: organic arsenic which is non-toxic, and inorganic, which is used by industries for a variety of purposes such as pesticides or a microbial to stop infections, and is toxic at high levels. Foods can naturally contain high levels of organic arsenic absorbed through soil and water. Inorganic arsenic can also be transferred to food through soil or water if pesticides or other products are misused.
"Arsenic is found everywhere – in soil, water and the atmosphere," says Dr. Tsai. “The concern should not be how to avoid arsenic all together – in fact, it would be pretty difficult to eliminate. Instead, it is the amount of arsenic we expose ourselves to in what we consume that is the issue.”
How much arsenic in baby food is too much?
According to Dr. Tsai, reports from independent studies were released as far back as 2012 causing concern about arsenic levels in rice, rice cereal and other rice products. Since then, both government and independent studies have been conducted to evaluate arsenic levels in various domestic and imported foods.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded by recommending that arsenic in rice cereal shouldn't exceed 100 parts per billion. Recent independent studies in the news found arsenic levels in store-bought rice cereals at 85 parts per billion, still within the acceptable limits.
What's the answer about arsenic in baby food?
Rather than focusing on whether your baby is getting too much arsenic, Dr. Tsai echoes the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) recommendation about arsenic in baby food: focus on feeding your child a variety of foods.
"Offer your child a variety of foods so the focus isn't on rice products. This limits your child’s exposure," he says. "Rice cereal is a good source of nutrients, but it doesn't have to be your child's first and only source. Introduce different grains to your child’s diet. Oat, barley and multigrain cereals are great options too."
In addition to varying your baby's diet, the AAP recommends other ways to reduce exposure to arsenic, including:
- Limiting or avoiding fruit juices. Babies don't need juice in the first year of life. Provide pureed, mashed or whole fruits.
- Avoiding products with brown rice syrup. Toddler snacks or puffs often use brown rice syrup as a sweetener.
- Not using rice milk as a substitute for cow's milk. Choose other dairy sources if your child is dairy-sensitive.
Where to go for information you can trust
It can be hard to know if studies and reports in the news, like the ones on arsenic, are credible. When it comes to making educated decisions in the best interest of your child, there's more information available than ever. But more isn't always better.
Dr. Tsai says you should always talk with your child's pediatrician first about concerns. You can also access pediatricians' go-to sources for credible information on the latest research that may impact your child.
"The most trusted website pediatricians refer to is the AAP website," he says. "It boils down information and provides basic facts and recommendations on pretty much any topic."
He says parents can also turn to government-sponsored websites, such as cdc.gov, which physicians count on for up-to-date information and recommendations.
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