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

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

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. To shed more light, we will share more about these studies and the kind of foods toddlers should not eat. 

foods toddlers should not eat

It’s very concerning to read reports about the lead content in food for babies. Scroll to the end to see what foods toddlers should not eat.

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, which is indeed a concern for parents.

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.

It is found that the following popular types of baby foods had visible percentages of lead: 

  • Fruit juices: 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, including 67% of mixed fruit juices, 55% of apples, and 45% of pears
  • 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. 

Following this report, there are more recent studies which have added on to existing research on the levels of lead found in baby foods. In these reports, it reveals the brands and types of foods toddlers should not eat, in which contain harmful substances like arsenic, lead, and cadmium. 

From raisins to quinoa and cereals to teething biscuits, these everyday common foods which you think are the opposite could actually put your little ones to higher risks of lead consumption. 

But mums and dads, lead is fairly common in our foods and it is not possible to avoid these foods entirely. To ease your worries, you could look towards consulting with your paediatrician on ways to reduce lead exposure.

And especially for baby food, if you have a go-to brand, it will be good to check with the company if “there is less than 1 ppb of lead in the food and juices they sell”.

2. Consumer Report Study

According to Consumer Report’s tests that were released on August 16, 2018, it is found that there are “concerning levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead in many popular baby and toddler foods”.

Their food safety team tested several popular baby food brands for traces of mercury, inorganic arsenic, cadmium and lead, including:

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

The results are truly shocking — and these are not even all of the brands as mentioned in the full report.

  • 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. What do these foods have in common? They stem from rice and that they are the most common type of packaged food that babies and toddlers eat. 

Amongst the various snacks, results showed 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

What about switching to organic food as an alternative? It seems like they aren’t as safe as we think they are. 

The results are still worrying, even if we buy organic jarred foods for our baby. “Organic foods were as likely to contain heavy metals as conventional foods,” the study reported.

And this has to do with not just the particular type of foods they consume. Because of their “smaller size and developing brains and organ systems”, babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable in this sense, according to James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.

“They also absorb more of the heavy metals that get into their bodies than adults do.” 

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.”

foods toddlers should not eat

There are some ways of reducing lead content in food for babies, such as being more aware of the kinds of foods toddlers should not eat.

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: 


“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 both said that 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 has similar results as well and they are reviewing their protocols for further improvement.

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

Read Consumer Report’s FULL REPORT here.

Symptoms of Lead and Other Heavy Metal Toxicity

Interestingly, lead build up does not just come from the foods your little ones eat. Interestingly, they could be exposed through other factors like contaminated air, water and soil. 

If lead content builds up in the body, it could also result in lead poisoning; it could happen over years or even months. 

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

It could be hard to detect, only after significant amounts of lead have been accumulated in the body. 

Prolonged exposure can also lead to convulsions, anaemia and delirium. Needless to say, the effects paint a nasty picture. 

But if your child eats a healthy diet, with regular meals and good nutrition, it might help to lower lead absorption. Ensure that your child gets enough calcium, vitamin C and iron in their diets to prevent the absorption of lead.

foods toddlers should not eat

Lead content in food for babies is concerning, but you can do something about it. Start simple from the kinds of foods toddlers should not eat.

Lead Content in Food for Babies: 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. 

They key here is to better understand and to be aware of the kinds of foods toddlers should not eat. That said, we are not advocating for kids to abstain from these foods entirely. A well-balanced diet is key.

Foods Toddlers Should Not Eat: How To Go About This?

Rather than focusing on the foods toddlers should not eat, the focus should be to keep lead below toxic levels through awareness of foods higher in lead content. Based on the findings and recommendations of experts, here are a couple of 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 says 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

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

foods toddlers should not eat

Avocados are a good source of nutrition when it comes to tackling the foods toddlers should not eat.

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.

foods toddlers should not eat

Instead of focusing on the foods toddlers should not eat, we should look at foods that can help to prevent lead accumulation in our kids.

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, Mayo Clinic

Also read: Healthy soup recipes for babies

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Written by

Anay Bhalerao

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