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August 2021

Toxic Metals in Baby Food: What You Need to Know

Shocking headlines caused parents widespread alarm in early 2021. Government regulators found many baby foods and juices contain unwelcome ingredients—toxic metals like lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury.

According to the FDA, the amounts found don’t pose an immediate health risk to children. But over time, exposure can cause problems with thinking, learning, and behavior.

Where contaminants come from

Toxic metals occur naturally in the earth. Children come into contact with small amounts every day through food, air, water, and soil.

The low levels in baby foods represent only a fraction of infants’ total exposure, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Plus, many other factors influence brain development. But to stay on the safe side, the FDA is taking fast action, including increasing inspections and supporting more research.

Help kids thrive with variety

While you don’t have to purge your pantry of premade baby foods, you can work to minimize your child’s exposure. When your little one is ready for solid foods—around age 6 months—aim to:

  • Supply a mixed diet. A wide range of foods—both packaged and fresh—ensures your child gets more nutrients and fewer contaminants. Wash fruits and veggies in cool water before serving.

  • Rein in the rice. Rice, especially brown rice, tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater. So, it shouldn’t be the only grain your child consumes. Add barley, oats, quinoa, and other grains to the menu, too.

  • Read labels. Look for baby food blends with multiple ingredients. Check beyond the flavor. Even those with different names, like kale/pear and spinach/pumpkin, may have the same first ingredient, such as sweet potatoes. Note: Organic foods may contain lower levels of certain pesticides than nonorganic foods, but about the same levels of heavy metals.

At this time, health experts don’t recommend testing your child for heavy metal exposure. However, talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.

What’s for dinner? DIY baby food

Making some of your own baby food can help you avoid potential contaminants from processing or packaging. One tasty dinner idea: Blend ½ skinless, boneless cooked chicken breast or thigh; ¼ cup of cooked green beans; and ¼ cup cooked quinoa or other whole grains. Add water, formula, or breast milk to thin out the mixture to achieve the desired thickness.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
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