There has been information in the news lately about metals found in baby food. Should you worry?
While it is true that some metals can be harmful to our health, recent reports are unclear on the types and amounts of metals found in infant and toddler foods. Without information on the levels of metals found in these foods, it is hard to know which foods to avoid. We do know that metals are present in our foods, but some foods will have more than others depending on how and where they are grown.
How Do Metals Get into Foods?
Metals are found naturally in the Earth's crust. They also are released into our environment as pollution and get into the water and soil used to grow food. Metals can also get into food from food manufacturing and packaging.
Some of the most common metals that get into food, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, include inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
How You Can Reduce Your Baby's Exposure to Metals:
There are steps parents can take to lower their child's risk of too much metals in his or her diet.
Serve a variety of foods. Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. 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.
Rotate the grains you serve. Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients, but it shouldn't be a baby's only source, and does not need to be the first one. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. If making rice from scratch, use a lot of water—at least 6 cups of water per cup of rice--and drain it well to help reduce any arsenic that may be present. Avoid using rice milk and brown rice syrup, which is sometimes used as a sweetener in processed toddler foods.
Check your water. Metals can get into tap water, especially if it comes from a well or passes through older pipes that may contain lead. If you're concerned about lead levels in your water, especially if you use tap water to prepare infant formula or cereals, consider having your home tested.
Breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding, rather than formula feeding, also can help reduce exposure to metals. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months.
Make healthy fish choices. Some types of fish can be high in a form of mercury called methylmercury, and other metals. Of most concern are fish that eat other fish and live longer, such as shark, orange roughy, and swordfish. Eating too much contaminated fish can harm a child's developing nervous system. But fish is an excellent source of protein and other nutrients children need, and many are low in mercury. So look for better options like light tuna (solid or chunk), salmon, cod, whitefish and pollock.
Don't smoke. Secondhand smoke, from both regular and e-cigarettes, may expose children to metals such as cadmium and lead. Secondhand smoke also contains harmful chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer.
Should My Baby Be Tested for Metal Exposure?
Until more information about metals in baby foods becomes available, experts say there's no need to get children tested. Tests that look at a child's hair for metal exposure also are not recommended, since this type of testing is scientifically unproven and often inaccurate.
Talk with your pediatrician:
If you're concerned about metals exposure in your child, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) have staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over environmental toxins.
Additional Information & Resources: