by Dr. Aparna Bole, American Academy of Pediatrics
Photo credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain
I read about heavy metals in baby food. How worried should I be?
Breaking news about heavy metals in baby food can ask a lot of questions for parents.
The low levels of heavy metals in food is likely a relatively small part of a child’s overall heavy metal exposure risk. However, exposure from all sources should be minimized. Heavy metal exposure can be harmful to the developing brain. Many genetic, social, and environmental factors affect healthy brain development, and exposure to heavy metals is just one of those factors.
Metals naturally found in the earth’s crust are also released into our environment as pollution and end up in 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 found in food are arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
Stricter rules are needed to test and limit the amount of heavy metals in foods for babies and toddlers. But there are steps parents can take right now to reduce exposure:
– Think about variety. Give your child a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables (wash in cold water before serving), cereals, and lean protein. This can reduce exposure to metals and other contaminants in some foods.
– Read the labels. Multi-ingredient baby formula mixes can be a great option. Be aware, however, that various flavor mixes like kale / pear and spinach / pumpkin may have sweet potatoes as the first ingredient. Check out the ingredients list to make sure you are serving a real variety of foods.
– Turn your grains on. Fortified infant cereals can be a good source of nutrition, but rice cereals don’t have to be your baby’s first or only cereal. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. Serve a variety of grains like oats, barley, couscous, and bulgur. Avoid rice milk and brown rice syrup, which is sometimes used as a sweetener.
– Check your water. Heavy metals can get into tap water: for example, arsenic can contaminate well water, and older pipes can contain lead. You can contact your local health department to have your water tested if this is a problem.
– Breastfeed if possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using breastfeeding as the sole source of food for your baby for about six months.
– Avoid fruit juice. Offer toddlers and toddlers cut or pureed whole fruit rather than juice. Some fruit juices may contain heavy metals in terms of heavy metals. In addition, juice is sugary and not as nutritious as whole fruit. Stick to breast milk or formula for babies under 6 months of age and water and milk after the age of 1.
– Make healthy fish choices. Some species of fish can be high in mercury and other metals. Of paramount importance are larger fish that eat other fish, such as shark, orange roughy, swordfish, and albacore / albacore. Light tuna (firm or chunky), salmon, cod, whitefish, and pollock are better options.
– Consider homemade baby food. Making your own baby formula can help reduce the risk of contamination during processing and you can choose the ingredients. Remember that offering a wide variety of foods is just as important in making your own baby food as it is in purchasing prepared baby food.
Organic baby formula may contain fewer pesticides and other chemicals. Since heavy metals are found in the soil, organic foods often contain similar heavy metals as non-organic foods.
Note that there are other ways to reduce exposure to heavy metals. For example, the most common source of lead exposure is peeling or flaking paint from older homes. Soil, some cosmetics and spices, water, and certain occupations and hobbies can also be sources of exposure. In addition, second and third hand smoke from regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes can expose children to metals such as cadmium and lead. Vaping allows heavy metals from the steam coils to get into the air and be inhaled.
If you are concerned about your child’s metal exposure, speak to your pediatrician.
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