What You Should Know About a New Report on Heavy Metals in Baby Food

Find out which heavy metals a government subcommittee found in baby food and get tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics on what to do with the findings.

Arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury — those are among the toxic heavy metals a congressional subcommittee found in leading brands of baby food, including some sold to parents believing organic foods were best for their babies.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight’s subcommittee on economic and consumer policy unveiled its findings on Feb. 4 of its investigation of seven companies, some of which refused to cooperate with the subcommittee.

The World Health Organization has declared the heavy metals dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children, suggesting that even low levels can cause serious damage to brain development, the report said.

Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber complied with the subcommittee, while Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods did not, the report said.

“The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might obscure the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products, compared to their competitors’ products,” the report said.

It suggested parents avoid baby foods that contain ingredients testing high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice products.

Justifiably, parents are left with many concerns and questions about feeding their babies safely, or even what impact the baby food they have been using has had so far. So, we reached out to the American Academy of Pediatrics for some tips for parents worried about what they are reading in the news about the report.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health made the following recommendations:

Make healthy fish choices

Some types of fish, such as orange roughy and swordfish, can be high in a form of mercury and other metals, it said. Look for better options like light tuna, salmon, cod, whitefish and pollock, it said.

Serve a variety of foods

Make sure your child eats a variety of fruits, vegetables (wash in cool water before preparing and serving), grains, and lean protein. Offer toddlers and young children sliced or pureed whole fruits rather than juice. Eating a variety of healthy foods that are rich in essential nutrients can lower the exposure to metals and other contaminants found in some foods, it said.

Serve a variety of grains

Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. Try feeding babies and kids other options, including oat, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro and bulgur. Avoid rice milk. If making rice from scratch, rinse it first and cook in an excess of water that can be drained after cooking. Brown rice tends to have highest arsenic levels, the AAP said.

Consider making your own baby food

Because heavy metals can also get into food from food manufacturing and packaging, consider making your own baby food at home, the AAP said. Use a blender or food processor, or mash softer foods with a fork. You can feed your baby raw bananas (mashed), but most other fruits and vegetables should be cooked first.

The subcommittee recommends mandatory testing by the FDA, labeling that reports heavy metals in baby food, voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients and finding substitutes, and new FDA standards of maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods.

For more recommendations about dealing with heavy metals from AAP, visit HealthyChildren.org.

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