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5 Things You Need to Know About Heavy Metals in Baby Food

Most people would do everything they can to protect the health of their children, so when Consumer Reports released a comprehensive study on heavy metals in baby food last week, it’s bound to create some panic. But I wanted to break down the study for you (which was carefully conducted and reported on) so you can take a deep breath. Part of my goal for this website is to give you the information you need to make safer choices, while not driving yourself crazy every time a new report comes out.

Key Findings from Consumer Reports

  • Products that were certified organic or conventional both had heavy metals (aka organic isn’t automatically safe)
  • Lindsay’s note: Still purchase organic baby food when possible to avoid pesticide contamination!
  • Two rice cereals tested had measurable levels of methylmercury
  • Two thirds of the products tested had “concerning” levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium, showing a widespread issue
  • Snack foods (teething crackers, bars, cookies, puffs, crisps) had the highest levels of heavy metals
  • Rice and cereal based products had higher levels than fruit and vegetable based baby foods
  • There are no federal regulations for limits of heavy metals in foods, but California has set some limits

Five things you need to know about heavy metals in baby food

1 – Heavy metals are everywhere and naturally occurring

Heavy metals are not added to baby food, cosmetics, or other products, in fact they are naturally occurring in the earth. This means that a lot of naturally sourced ingredients can run the risk of contamination from heavy metals like lead, cadmium, arsenic, among others. While frustrating, it’s important to know this is a very different matter than companies using hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA or phthalates in food packaging. That is something they can control, heavy metals are a different story.

2 – You can’t (nor can companies) completely avoid heavy metals

If a company is making a product that uses naturally derived ingredients (food, skin care, cosmetics) they can’t entirely avoid heavy metals. But here is what they can do: spot test finished goods for heavy metals like lead and arsenic to understand what levels are found in their products, work with their suppliers to find sources of food that have lower levels of heavy metals, choose farms that are far away from industrial sites.

3 – Skip rice products for babies and kids

In the last ten years it has become common for parents to feed their kids “rice cereal” as a transition from breast milk to baby food. Pediatrician Dr. Greene has been telling parents for years to avoid feeing rice cereal to babies as they transition to more solid foods, you can read more about that HERE.

Consumer Reports and others have found that the highest levels of arsenic are found in this cereal and other rice-based baby food. As noted in the results above, children’s rice products including cookies, puffs and bars also had the highest levels of heavy metals and should be skipped entirely.

As recommended by Consumer Reports, choose organic options of fruits and vegetables like avocados, apples, bananas, grapes, hard-boiled eggs, peaches, and strawberries, all known to have lower levels of heavy metals.

4 – Choose rice select options to reduce arsenic exposure

Choose white basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. to reduce your exposure. Brown rice unfortunately has higher levels of arsenic. All rice should be cooked similar to pasta, in a large pot, boil until soft and then strain and serve. This helps reduce your exposure versus cooking in a set amount of water (it’s also much easier IMO!).

5 – Ask your protein powder company if and how they screen for heavy metals

Protein powders have the same issues as some grain based cereals and baby foods, so email your favorite brand to ask them if they are testing for heavy metals and what they are doing to reduce your exposure. Brands that use dairy or whey based protein are generally lower in heavy metals than those who use plant based grains. I am currently asking my favorite company about their standards and will report back!

Other useful tips:

You can read the comprehensive summary of the Consumer Reports article HERE.

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