High levels of heavy metals found in many brands of baby food, says new study

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Lead, a toxic metal causing disastrous consequences in children is ironically found in baby food.

As parents, we make every effort so that our children have the safest, most nutritious food they can ever have. We cook for them using the freshest ingredients, buy the best baby food for them and see to it that they do not ingest anything noxious. However, a couple of  studies have revealed high lead content in food for babies produced by some companies. Needless to say, this alarming revelation is a cause for concern among parents. 

lead content in food for babies

It’s very concerning to read reports about the lead content in food for babies.

Lead Content in Food for Babies: What the Studies Have Revealed

1. EDF Study

The first study on lead content in food for babies was conducted by Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), a non-profit organisation. It reveals that about 20% of baby foods contain this toxic heavy metal.

The EDF studied and analysed 11 years worth of data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of America.

  • Researchers detected lead in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods.
  • Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples.

They also revealed the detectable lead percentages in the following popular types of baby foods: 

  • Fruit juices: 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, including 67% of mixed fruit juices, 55% of apple, and 45% of pear
  • Root vegetables: 86% of sweet potatoes and 43% of carrots
  • Cookies: 64% of arrowroot cookies and 47% of teething biscuits 

To download and read their full report, click here. 

The second, more recent report is more concerning because it reveals the names of baby food brands that contain harmful substances, including arsenic, lead, and cadmium. 

2. Consumer Report Study

Consumer Report’s tests “shows concerning levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead in many popular baby and toddler foods.”

Their food safety team tested several popular baby food brands, including:

  • Beech-Nut
  • Gerber
  • Baby Mum-Mum
  • Earth’s Best
  • Ella’s Kitchen
  • Happy Baby
  • Sprout 

These products (there are more brands mentioned in the full report) were tested for traces of mercury, inorganic arsenic, cadmium and lead, says the report, which was released on August 16, 2018.

The results are truly shocking. 

  • In each of the products tested, at least one of these harmful heavy metals were found.
  • 68 percent of them contained “worrisome” contamination levels. 
  • Of all products tested, those with sweet potato and rice had the highest levels of contamination. 

The report called out snack foods – bars, cookies, crackers, crunches, crisps, puffs, and rice rusks and other teething biscuits—as the most problematic. This is because of their rice content, and also because snacks are the most common type of packaged foods that babies and toddlers eat. 

Their test results found that “all the samples of Beech-Nut Classics Sweet Potatoes, Earth’s Best Organic Sweet Potatoes, and Gerber Turkey & Rice had concerning levels of lead.” 

Organic Food Not Safe Either

Even if you buy organic jarred foods for your baby, the results are still worrying. “Organic foods were as likely to contain heavy metals as conventional foods,” the study reported.

“Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable due to their smaller size and developing brains and organ systems. They also absorb more of the heavy metals that get into their bodies than adults do,” elaborates James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.

Moreover, heavy metals consumed via food tend to deposit in internal organs, including the kidneys, so the earlier a human is exposed to them, the greater the health risk over time. 

According to the USFDA,

“There is no known identified safe blood lead level, and chronic exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, increasing the risk for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behaviour problems, and hearing and speech problems.”

lead content in food for babies

There are some ways of reducing lead content in food for babies.

What Do the Manufacturers Say?

Consumer Report researchers contacted the manufacturers of all baby food products tested. Here is what some of the more popular brands had to say: 

Sprout

“We are a responsible company with high safety standards for our ingredients and our products. We are continuing to work with the fruit and vegetable industry to look for the cleanest sources of ingredients.” They say that they “fully support the evolution of FDA safety regulations that help ensure the highest levels of food safety standards for babies.”

Gerber and Hain Celestial (parent company of Earth’s Best)

While they both said they believed their products complied with Californian law, Gerber tested samples of its turkey and rice dinner from the same three batches CR tested. It got similar results and was “reviewing our protocols for further improvement.”

Beech-Nut said that it had “reviewed the ingredient testing reports of its independent lab, which showed the lead levels as undetectable,” but that as a result of an internal investigation, the company “upgraded the requirements for our third-party lab testing.” 

Read Consumer Report’s FULL REPORT.

Symptoms of Lead and Other Heavy Metal Toxicity

The most common symptoms in children are mood and behavioural changes, lower IQ, hyperactivity or decreased activity, colic, gastrointestinal disturbances to name a few.

Prolonged exposure can also lead to convulsions, anaemia and delirium. 

Needless to say, the effects paint a nasty picture. 

lead content in food for babies

Lead content in food for babies is concerning, but you can do something about it.

Lead Content in Food for Babies: What is the Solution? 

Unfortunately, lead is not found as an additive in the food. It is present in the raw, natural ingredients like water, vegetables and meat.

So when it comes to lead content in food for babies, it is very difficult to remove this toxic substance from baby food. By extension, it also means that whatever you use as ingredients has a chance of contributing to the lead load, even if it is organic. 

It takes time for the body to excrete absorbed lead. Experts estimate that even if lead intake is stopped somehow, it would take months or even years to get rid of all the lead in the body. Fortunately, when there is a suspicion of lead poisoning, there are treatments available. 

The Solution

The key is to keep lead below toxic levels. Based on the findings and recommendations of experts, here are three things you can do to slow down the buildup of lead and other toxic elements in your babies’  bodies. 

1. Limit or Skip Rice Cereal

While rice cereal is a popular choice for baby’s first food, “the American Academy of Pediatrics say that there’s no reason it must be rice cereal and that infants should be given a variety of cereals, noting concerns about levels of inorganic arsenic in those products,” says Consumer Reports. As mentioned earlier, rice can contain high levels of inorganic arsenic. 

Choosing the “right” rice is also crucial. Tests reveal that brown rice had more inorganic arsenic than white rice of the same type.

Some better options, then are “white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S.” These, says Consumer Report, average half the inorganic arsenic other types have. 

2. Look for Whole Foods Low in Inorganic Arsenic and Other Heavy Metals

These include: apples, applesauce (unsweetened), avocados, bananas, barley with diced vegetables, beans, cheese, grapes, hard-boiled eggs, peaches, strawberries, and yogurt.

3. Healthy Intake of Vitamins, Particularly Vitamin C

Vitamin C slow downs the absorption of lead from food. It changes the environment of the stomach and makes lead absorption difficult. In addition, it also improves the absorption of iron from the food, reducing any deficiency. This also reduces the absorption of lead from the food. 

In addition, Vitamin C and Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) improve the excretion of the lead already present in the body. Thiamine has been shown to improve the excretion of lead from the brain in some animal studies. So be sure that your child eats his greens without fail.

4. Reduce or Exclude Juice Drinks

Store bought juices provide little benefit to your child. They are full of sugar, have minimal fibre and may be rich in lead due to the processing involved. But the more compelling reason is the finding of the study mentioned at the start of the article.

In the samples tested, researchers found lead in 9 out of 10 grape juice samples, 7 out of 10 mixed fruit juice samples, and about half samples of apple and pear juices. However, in the baby version of apple and grape juices, the lead content was ironically much higher.

So, instead of giving juices, encourage your child to eat fresh fruits. But, even here, try out different fruits so that there is no lead build up from one source.

5. Tackle Deficiencies

Deficiencies in itself are not good for your child. That said, they are not uncommon even in developed nations like Singapore. The reason is most commonly a diet that is not balanced. Iron and calcium deficiencies are quite common in children. In the case of calcium, it might just be due to a deficiency of Vitamin D. 

Correction of these deficiencies will ensure that your child stays healthy and the build up of lead is slow.

Read this report by Clean Labels, for a list of star-rated baby foods: CLICK HERE

 

Source: Consumer Reports

Also read: Healthy soup recipes for babies