News about dangerous levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in baby foods 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.
These recent reports are not the first time concerns about baby food safety have been raised, but it can be hard to understand what this news means and the best way to keep your child healthy. Meghana Sathe, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, explains what you should know about baby food and the safest sources of nutrition for your child.
Are there heavy metals in baby food?
Heavy metals are commonly found in our environment. Metals naturally occur in the Earth's crust. They also get released into the environment from a variety of sources, such as pesticides or pollution.
This means that heavy metals can get into the food we eat because they are present in our soil and water. Other metals may get into food during the manufacturing or packaging process. Some metals that may get into food include:
"Heavy metals can be found everywhere – in soil, water and the atmosphere," explains Dr. Sathe. "Because of this, there's no way to completely eliminate them from our diet. Our focus should be on making sure that we're minimizing the amount of exposure we have to these heavy metals."
Can heavy metals in food harm my baby?
Exposure to heavy metals can have serious health effects, especially on a child's developing brain. However, the levels of heavy metals reported in baby foods likely play a minimal role in your child's overall risk for heavy metal exposure.
"These metals can cause health risks, but that requires a high level of exposure," says Dr. Sathe. "It's good to have raised awareness that these metals do exist in our foods; it's an important issue to address. But this does not mean your baby is in danger because you fed them this food."
To minimize your child's exposure to heavy metals, there are some simple steps you can take.
How can I protect my child from heavy metals?
Parents can protect their children from heavy metal exposure by making certain food and lifestyle choices. While heavy metals are naturally present in many foods, taking these simple steps can help reduce risk:
- Feed your child a variety of foods: Offering your child a variety of healthy foods is one of the best ways to provide essential nutrients and reduce your child's exposure to metals. Some foods, like root vegetables and rice, may absorb metals more than others. A well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean protein can prevent parents from relying too heavily on just one or two baby-food favorites. But there are other benefits to variety, Dr. Sathe points out. Introducing a wide range of foods at an early age can expand your child's food preferences and is also recommended to help decrease risk of food allergies. She recommends focusing on expanding your child's diet, ensuring that food is served in a developmentally appropriate way, and rinsing fruits and vegetables before preparing.
- Look to grains beyond rice: Rice is one food that has tested for higher levels of arsenic. While rice cereal is often a popular option for infants, make an effort not to rely on it exclusively. Introduce different grains to your child's diet, such as oats, barley, quinoa and multigrain infant cereals. Try to avoid or limit products made with brown rice syrup, which is commonly found in toddler snacks and puffs. Instead of turning to these processed snack products for babies or toddlers, mix in fresh fruits or vegetables.
- Choose healthy fish options: Fish is a healthy source of protein for young children. However, some types of fish can be higher in mercury or other metals. These fish include shark, orange roughy, swordfish and white tuna. Opt for fish such as salmon, cod, light tuna, whitefish or pollock.
- Avoid or limit fruit juices: There are many reasons that young children should avoid drinking fruit juices. They often contain sugar and do not provide essential nutrients. They also have been shown to contain heavy metals. Babies should not drink fruit juice in their first year of life. Provide only pureed, mashed or whole fruits for your child. Under the age of 1, breastfeed if possible, or provide infant formula. Older children should focus on drinking water and milk and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Try making your own baby food at home: While it's impossible to avoid all metals that are found in foods, making your own baby food at home can help reduce exposure. If making your own baby food sounds daunting, know that even making some of your child's food at home can be a good first step. Use a food processor or simply mash softened or cooked foods with a fork, depending on your baby's developmental ability. Babies don't need gourmet or complicated blends – just focus on a variety of healthy foods.
In addition to making these dietary changes, parents can also be aware of other potential environmental exposures to heavy metals. Address any lead hazards in your home, avoid smoking or vaping and check your tap water. Learn more ways to minimize your family's risk of heavy metal exposure.
Where to go for information you can trust
There's no doubt that more news will be shared about baby food safety. Some companies may capitalize on this news and market their products with labels such as natural or organic. However, it's important to know that even the label of "organic" does not mean there are no heavy metals present in food. Instead, it's more important to focus on feeding your child a variety of healthy foods.
If you have questions or concerns about your child's diet and health, it's best to talk with your pediatrician. They can help you understand the data that is available on health topics and guide you on the best foods for your child.
Should parents be worried about what's in baby food? There have been reports about #arsenic and heavy metals in baby food. An expert @Childrens explains how to protect your baby's health.