A report in February from the US House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee said commercial baby food was tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.
The report is based on information from four companies that make baby food: Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber. Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are found in the baby foods of all companies. Mercury is found in foods from the only company that tests it (Nurture). Three other companies (Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell) were asked to provide the same information about their baby food products, and they didn’t.
Dr. Claire McCarthy at Harvard Health Blog states that is only part of the problem: This is just one report, with limited information. It’s hard to know exactly what commercial baby food means in general, but this is a report we need to take seriously as these four heavy metals can affect the developing brain. And if you damage the brain as it develops, the damage can be permanent.
Metals are found naturally on earth. They are also released into our environment as pollution and enter our water and land. Organic baby foods may have less pesticides but have the same heavy metal content as non-organic foods.
The Food and Drug Administration is working on better monitoring and regulation of heavy metals in commercial baby foods. Meanwhile, it is almost impossible to know what is safe and what is not.
Babies do not need solid foods until 6 months of age. At that time, it was okay to feed them soft table foods rather than baby food. You can also make your own baby food, using steamed or soft, natural foods and a blender. (Storage tip: You can pour your homemade puree into an ice cube tray and freeze it, then grab the cubes you need each time.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggestions for families to help reduce their children’s exposure to heavy metals in their food and drink:
• Give your child a variety of different foods (the more natural the color, the better).
• Vary the grains. It is best to limit rice and rice products (check the label – rice is in many foods marketed for babies, such as “puffs”). Try barley, wheat, and other grains. When cooking rice, it is best to cook it with extra water and drain the water, and to use white basmati and sushi rice, which have less arsenic.
• Check your water. Old pipes can contain lead, which can dissolve into drinking water.
• Avoid fruit juices. Not only can it increase the risk of cavities and obesity, but many commercial juices also contain heavy metals.
• Make healthy fish choices. Fish contains nutrients that are healthy for brain development, but some fish contain unhealthy amounts of mercury. Stay away from large, predatory and long-lived fish such as swordfish, shark, or albacore tuna. Better to choose fish such as cod, light tuna, salmon or pollock.