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What Can Parents Do About Heavy Metals in Baby Food?

What Are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are elements that are found in soil, water, and the air we breathe. Plants take up these metals as they grow and can end up in the food we eat. Our bodies need some heavy metals (like iron and zinc) to work well, but other heavy metals (like arsenic, mercury, and lead) are harmful. Some crops, like rice, absorb more harmful metals than others. Heavy metals can build up in the body over time and cause problems with learning, behavior, and attention.

How Do Heavy Metals Get Into Baby Food?

Heavy metals are in many of the raw foods used to make baby food. That’s why they can be found in both store-bought baby food (including organic baby food) and homemade baby food. Some baby foods have higher levels of heavy metals than others, including:

  • infant rice cereal
  • infant rice puff snacks
  • teething biscuits and rice rusks
  • fruit juice
  • carrots and sweet potatoes

How Can I Lower My Baby's Exposure to Heavy Metals?

The amount of heavy metals in baby foods is low. But you can take steps to lower it even more:

  • Offer your baby a variety of healthy foods. Eating a balanced diet can lower your baby's overall exposure to heavy metals. Rotating the foods your child eats is important even if your baby eats organic baby food or homemade baby food. 
  • Don't only give infant rice cereal. Give your baby other cereals, like oatmeal, barley, quinoa, and multigrain cereals.
  • Keep giving carrots and sweet potatoes. They contain important nutrients, but serve them along with other fruits and vegetables.
  • Don't give your baby fruit juice. Some fruit juices can contain concerning amounts of heavy metals. Also, juice is not recommended for children under 1 year old because it can cause cavities and weight gain. Formula or breast milk for infants and water and milk for older children are the best drinks. Instead of juice, give your baby fruit because it has more fiber and nutrients.
  • Choose white basmati rice and sushi rice when making rice dishes. These kinds of rice have less arsenic than other types. Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Cook rice in plenty of water, and then drain off the extra water. This helps lower the amount of arsenic.
  • Limit baby food snacks, including rice puffs and oat ring cereals. Instead of processed snacks, give your baby puréed, mashed, or soft foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, or yogurt. This also helps your baby eat less added sugar, salt, and refined flour. If you serve your baby prepared snacks, choose rice-free or multigrain options.
  • Don't use teething biscuits. Instead, give your baby a cold (not frozen) teether or wet washcloth to chew on.
  • Test your water.Tap water may have lead in it from lead pipes. Well water may contain lead and other heavy metals.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 20, 2023

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