Commercial baby food may be contaminated with heavy metals, report shows

Commercial baby food can be contaminated by heavy metals, according to some reports. To be more careful with your little one we will tell you all the information.

Last update: June 11, 2021

There is a wide range of commercial baby food on the market. However, a new report issued by the House of Representatives Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee revealed high levels of toxic metals in these types of products.

The toxic elements involved are lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. These can reach food through the environment, water and the same soil in which the raw material with which they are made grows.

Out of 5 baby foods, 1 exceeded the limit by more than 10 times of 1 part per billion of lead, established as a public health measure. According to the report, these metals endanger the child's long-term brain function and neurological development.

What does the EDF report say?

A 2017 report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) considered data from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Total Diet Study (TDS) from 2003 to 2013.

Since the 1970s, TDS has found heavy metals in food. and since 2003, 20% of baby foods were found to have detectable levels of lead. More than 1 million children were estimated to exceed the FDA limit for lead.

For this reason, a new, much more sensitive analytical method was introduced in 2014. The goal was to detect very low levels of heavy metals in baby food. As a result, a higher percentage of contaminated food was obtained. 29.3% compared to just 12.7% before 2014.

Two years later there was a significant drop in lead values ​​for fruit juices such as apple and grape, which are sold as baby food. For 2017 the trend was the same, reaching only 11% of contaminated juices. However, 93% of foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, baby teething crackers, and rice crackers yielded high levels of lead.

Years later, a latest report issued by the United States Congress yielded shocking new data. The results were based on a study carried out in 2019 by non-profit organizations, such as Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

Out of 168 commercial baby foods, 160 were found to be contaminated with heavy metals. For this reason, it was considered necessary to establish stricter standards for manufacturers of commercial baby food and to regulate them vigorously.

Commercial baby foods may have traces of lead above safe limits.

What metals were found?

In this latest investigation on contamination of baby food it was found that 95% of commercial products were contaminated with lead.

75% of all baby foods contained cadmium and 73% arsenic. 32% of commercial products were contaminated with mercury. A quarter of the 168 foods tested contained a mix of the four toxic metals.

Read also: Foods to avoid giving your 9-month-old baby

What are the most contaminated foods?

The authors of the 2019 study, Jane Houlihan and Charlotte Brody, highlighted that all foods with small amounts of toxic metals can cause serious health problems for children.

Products most at risk of harm were commercial baby foods made from mashed sweet potatoes, rice cereals, fruit juices, and sweet snacks. This coincides with the 2016 FDA report, when it was published that of 39 foods analyzed, 33 were contaminated by heavy metals.

Rice-based foods, such as infant cereals and snacks, rank first as the most toxic. They contain a lot of inorganic arsenic and they often provide the four toxic metals.

How can heavy metals affect the development of the baby?

The report presented by Congress highlights that small amounts of heavy metals in food can alter brain development and lower the child's IQ. This impacts with every meal, including snacks.

In addition, the report also clarifies that exposure to these toxic metals can cause a decrease in future economic productivity. Also, there would be a greater risk of antisocial and criminal behavior for the future of the children.

According to Thomas Matte, low levels of lead in food can lead to poor cognitive development, behavior disorders, and short stature in young children. Once damage occurs it cannot be treated or reversed.

Irritability, abdominal pain, nervousness, poor appetite, headache, and trouble concentrating are some early symptoms of lead poisoning.

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that prolonged exposure to arsenic can cause skin damage, developmental problems and neurotoxicity with low scores on intellectual tests. For their part, a group of doctors warn that the toxic effects of cadmium are more pronounced in bones and kidneys, with people with low iron levels being more vulnerable.

Another study published in the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria states that mercury affects the development of the nervous system in the fetus. In the newborn it can alter cognitive function, reproduction and cardiovascular risk.

Recommendations to avoid heavy metals in babies

Some recommendations that can be taken into account to reduce the risk of exposure to heavy metals in the baby's diet are the following:

  • Check the labels well: the label gives an idea of ​​the base ingredients of the product and, therefore, of the risk of these foods as a source of heavy metals.
  • Incorporate natural and varied foods: It is preferable to give children a balanced diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Lean meats and cereals should also be a part.
  • Vary the cereals: rice cereal does not have to be the only one used in the diet. It can be combined with others, such as oats, quinoa, barley or couscous.
  • Check the waterHeavy metals can be found in well water or old pipes.
  • Substitute whole fruit for juice: It is preferable to offer slices of whole or pureed fruit instead of juices. Some contain high levels of heavy metals and are more easily absorbed.
  • Prepare your own food for the babyIn addition to being more economical, contamination can be avoided during processing and packaging.
  • Introduce healthy fish: some fish are a source of mercury and other metals. That is why swordfish, albacore, shark and albacore should be avoided. Select salmon, cod, light tuna, white fish, and haddock.
It will always be preferable to prepare food for the baby, rather than buying commercial products already prepared.

Discover: What is nutrition labeling?

Details about the report

The 2017 report showed some high-impact results on lead content in baby food. For example, analysis of 2,164 commercial baby food samples found that lead levels increased relative to other years:

  • 20% of all samples they had lead, compared to 14% in other foods.
  • 8 baby foods contained lead in more than 40% of the samples.
  • Grape Juice for Babies Had the Highest Values ​​for Lead when comparing with other juices.
  • Sweet potato and carrot purees, teething crackers, and rice crackers contained high lead values

While tighter controls are applied to the baby food processing industries, it is recommended to prepare fresh food from home. This reduces exposure to toxic metals and makes better food choices.

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