Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

Baby eating in high chair
Recent news about heavy metals in baby food can be scary for parents.  Heavy metals occur naturally in the soil used to grow food and are also found in pesticides, industrial processing, and food storage. Heavy metals include lead, arsenic, and mercury.

Here is some information for you as you newly introduce foods to your baby or are increasing variety in what they are offered. The biggest takeaway is don't panic, focus on variety. It is likely that food is a small contributor to a child's overall heavy metal exposure; a child's total heavy metal exposure is of greatest concern. The only heavy metal testing available is for lead and this is a standard of care that we discuss at all 1-year well-child visits with the lead screening questionnaire and ordering lab work if appropriate. 

The following information is a summary of the information presented by the AAP and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit:

1. Offer iron-fortified multi-grain cereals or oat, not only rice cereal. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. Include a variety of grains in your baby's diet such as barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, and bulgur.

2. Limit fruit juices. Small levels of arsenic have been detected in 100% fruit juices. Instead, offer your child whole fresh and frozen fruits or baby food fruits.

3. Avoid brown rice syrup as a sweetener. Brown rice has higher levels of arsenic compared to white rice and this is further concentrated as a sweetener in processed foods for kids.

4. Do not use rice milk as a substitute for cow's milk.

5. The most common source of lead exposure is peeling paint in buildings built before 1978 - this is a question on the lead screening form at age 1, and if you answered that your child has exposure to this, a lead test was ordered.

6. Limit or do not offer rice snacks and puffs, rice-based teething biscuits, and crisped rice cereal. Offer instead multi-grain, whole grain, oat, or barley snacks.

7. Eat carrots and sweet potatoes and other root vegetables less than daily; rotate with other vegetables. 

For more information, visit the AAP's summary of guidelines here: Heavy Metals in Baby Food

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