Toxic Heavy Metals Detected Equally in Homemade and Store-Bought Baby Food — How to Avoid Exposure

How can we find baby food without heavy metals for our children? A new report found high contamination rates in various common baby foods.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Aug. 11 2022, Published 11:56 a.m. ET

Baby Food Without Heavy Metals
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Every now and then, a new report about heavy metals potentially contaminating baby food will circulate, prompting parents and caregivers to start making homemade baby food for their little ones. However, a new study on the topic is causing further alarm, as it found that comparable amounts of toxic metals are also found in homemade baby food.

Is this a cause for concern? And how can we find baby food without heavy metals for our children?

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Keep reading for the details on the report, and the researchers’ best advice for avoiding toxic metal exposure.

Baby Food Without Heavy Metals
Source: Getty Images
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Heavy metals are just as likely to be in homemade and store-bought baby food.

Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) is a science-led organization that works to reduce babies’ exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. The group just released a new report, in which researchers conducted lab tests comparing homemade baby food to store-bought baby food, in pursuit of detecting the presence four specific toxic heavy metals: inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

According to Healthy Children, being exposed to toxic metals is worse for children than adults as it can cause brain development issues, including issues related to behavior, cognition, and learning.

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Overall, HBBF tested 288 foods commonly served to babies, along with data from more than 7,000 previously published food studies.

The HBBF scientists found that homemade baby purees and store-bought baby food were just as likely to be contaminated with at least one or the four tested toxic heavy metals. In fact, they found that 94 percent of both homemade and packaged baby foods were contaminated.

"We found no evidence to suggest that homemade baby foods made from store-bought produce are better than store-bought baby foods when it comes to heavy metal contamination," stated co-author Jane Houlihan, HBBF’s Research Director, as per CNN.

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HBBF found that the 10 most heavily contaminated foods ordinarily eaten by babies (in order from highest to lowest concentration) are: rice cakes, crisped rice cereal, rice-based puffs, brown rice, rice-based teething biscuits and rusks, white rice, raisins, teething crackers (non-rice), granola bar with raisins, and oat-ring cereal.

Basically, rice-based baby foods are most heavily contaminated, typically with inorganic arsenic.

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Of the 288 foods tested, the authors found that the 10 least contaminated foods consumed by babies (from lowest to highest concentration) to be: bananas, grits, baby food brand meats, butternut squash, lamb, apples, pork, eggs, oranges, and watermelon.

Homemade baby food
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Baby food without heavy metals: Here’s how to avoid exposing your child too much.

The authors of the study stress that when it comes to foods that tend to contain heavy metals, you should vary the sources and brands of these foods.

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of their babies’ meals and snacks, but until the FDA sets protective limits, the good news is that parents can skip and swap out certain foods to limit toxic chemical exposures,” Houlihan stated.

The authors recommend avoiding feeding your baby rice cakes, crisped rice cereal, rice-based puffs, and brown rice too often. HBBF recommends that when serving rice to your child, cook it like you would pasta, in extra water, and then drain the water. The group also recommends choosing basmati rice from California; white rice over brown; and adding other grains to your rotation, such as quinoa or farro.

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As for foods for which you don’t need to worry about metal contamination, they recommend feeding your child:

  • Fruit (fresh or frozen, but not canned)

  • Baby food brand fruits

  • Green beans

  • Peas

  • Butternut squash

  • Chilled, peeled cucumber

  • Frozen bananas

  • Meat (either baby food brand, or soft or pureed and home-cooked)

  • Beans

  • Eggs

  • Infant formula

  • Unsweetened applesauce

  • Cut grapes

  • Yogurt.

The researchers also shared a number of additional tips to avoid exposing your child to too many metals through their diet. For one thing, vary their diet, and mix up what you serve every day; make sure to never skip meals, and to regularly feed your child snacks, as skipping meals has been correlated with higher blood lead levels in children; ask your doctor about your baby’s iron levels; and make sure to always thoroughly wash produce.

For parents and caregivers, you can download HBBF’s two-page tip sheet for more tips on avoiding toxic metal contamination.

HBBF is also calling on the FDA to “go beyond the baby food aisle and set strong standards for these contaminants,” not just for baby food brands, but also for “fresh and family-style foods babies eat,” as stated by Charlotte Brody, RN, the National Director at HBBF.

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