Should you worry about heavy metal contaminants in your baby’s food?
By: Cindy Love MSN CPNP
The introduction of solid foods is often an exciting time for babies and parents. Is there anything cuter than your baby sitting in a high chair with food spread from ear to ear exploring the new taste of sweet potatoes? Having access to healthy food is key to a child’s proper growth and development. With the recent reporting of the presence of heavy metals in most commercial baby foods, parents are adding another worry to their parenting worry list. Toxic metals like lead, arsenic and mercury are often found in soil and water. So, food grown in this soil will take up these contaminants. Additional contamination can occur during manufacturing and packaging of processed foods. Children’s developing brains are more likely affected by these heavy metals which can affect learning and behavior. Parents need to remember many things influence a child’s brain development and this heavy metal exposure is just one of them. However, any way that we can limit our child’s exposure to these contaminants will be a benefit.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the low level of heavy metals found in baby foods are most likely a small part of a child’s overall exposure to heavy metals. We as parents need to work on limiting this exposure in all aspects of our children’s lives. So what can we do to prevent the exposure?
- Buy organic? Buying organic does not prevent heavy metal exposure. Some of the baby foods tested that were labeled organic actually had some of the higher levels. Organic food will limit pesticide and chemical exposure but not heavy metal exposure.
- Make your own baby food. Making your own baby food will help limit any heavy metal contamination from the manufacturing and packaging process; but this will not prevent the contamination of the food from the soil and water.
- Limit your child’s rice intake. Arsenic exposure is seen in diets high in rice content. Rice cereal often is one of the first foods introduced to babies. Choose instead a whole grain cereal such as oatmeal, wheat, or barley. Many toddler foods/snacks such as puffs, combination meals (chicken, vegetables and rice), and teething cookies (Mum Mums which are rice rusks) are high in arsenic. Choose snacks like puffs made with other grains, cheese cubes, frozen fruit to help with teething pain, and combination meals without rice.
- Serve a variety of foods. This provides a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins which will lower the exposure of contaminants from single food choices. Sweet potatoes and carrots have some of the highest levels of contaminants, so including many other vegetables along with sweet potatoes and carrots will lessen exposure. Wash all fruits and vegetable well in cool water before serving.
- No juice for children under age 1. Very limited juice for children over age 1 (4 to 6 oz/day). Juice, especially apple juice, has higher levels of contaminants than the whole fruit. Choose the whole fruit which has more nutrients and fiber.
- Do not use rice milk as a milk substitute for toddlers and older children. Rice milk contains significantly high levels of arsenic. If your child has dairy allergies, talk to your pediatrician for other choices!
- Serve fresh whole foods. This is always better both for nutrition and the prevention of exposure to harmful additives and heavy metals during processing and packaging.
- Serve fish that is known to be lower in mercury. These choices would include light tuna, salmon, cod, and white fish. Fish is a healthy source of protein!
- Don’t smoke or vape. A child’s second hand exposure (breathing in the smoke) or third hand exposure (clothing of a smoker/vaper) will increase exposure to cadmium and lead.
- Check older homes for lead paint. Exposure to lead through chips/peeling of lead paint is the most common way for children to develop high lead levels.
We can’t prevent 100% of a child’s exposure to these heavy metal contaminants, but we can do our best to limit the exposure. Do your best, provide whole fresh foods as often as possible, limit the amount of rice based snacks and foods, and serve a variety of foods… then relax and enjoy that sweet face covered in food grinning at you!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
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