Here’s what you need to know.

By Corey Williams
October 17, 2019
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The vast majority of baby foods tested in a national investigation contain toxic chemicals that can lower babies’ IQ, including arsenic and lead, according to a report published Thursday, October 17.

Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) tested 168 baby foods from major manufacturers, including Gerber, Earth's Best, and Beech-Nut. They found that 95% contained lead, 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium, and 32% contained mercury. One in four products tested contained all four of these toxic metals.

It’s not just baby food—these metals are found in all food. But, since babies are more sensitive to their toxic impacts, their presence in food specifically marketed toward infants is a cause for concern, the organization says.

How Can Toxic Heavy Metals Affect Your Baby?

Even in trace amounts, these toxic heavy metals can alter the developing brain and impact a baby’s IQ. The more the baby consumes, the stronger the effects are likely to be. The effects of these contaminants can continue well into adulthood.

What Foods Are the Worst Offenders?

  • Rice cereal, often introduced as a baby’s first food, is the top source of arsenic in a baby's diet. Other rice-based snacks, like rice puffs, also contain high levels. Oatmeal, multigrain cereals, and rice-free packaged snacks might be safer alternatives.
  • Teething biscuits and rice rusks are listed as a high-risk food in the report. Instead, you can feed your teething child other soothing foods—try a frozen banana.
  • Many parents choose to avoid fruit juice in their baby’s diet, as many popular types contain high amounts of sugar. Fruit juice can also contain toxic metals, according to the report. Plain tap water, which contains 68% less toxic metals, is a lower risk drink.
  • Carrots and sweet potatoes are great sources of many nutrients. However, root vegetables retain more toxic metals naturally. This doesn’t mean you should stop feeding your baby carrots and sweet potatoes, but you should feed them a diet rich in a wide variety of vegetables.

RELATED: What's Better for You—Quinoa or Rice?

What Is Being Done?

It’s not all bad news: The government, parents, and companies are taking steps to reduce the levels of these toxic metals in baby foods. In 2017, the FDA announced a plan to investigate ways of “reducing exposures ... to the greatest extent possible.”

Leading baby food companies formed a Baby Food Council in early 2019 that is working toward a similar solution.

The joint efforts seem to be working: Arsenic contamination levels in rice cereal and juice are 37% and 63% lower than they were a decade ago.

However, this isn’t enough, HBBF says.

“(Nineteen) of every 20 baby foods tested had detectable levels of one or more heavy metals, according to new tests detailed in this study,” the report states. “Only a dramatically accelerated pace at FDA and the fruition of the new Baby Food Council’s pursuit of industry-wide change will be enough to solve the problem.”

You can find the full report here and a summary here.

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