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What Can Parents Do About Heavy Metals in Baby Food?

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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I've heard about heavy metals in baby food. How can I keep my baby safe?
- Keeley

Heavy metals are found in soil, water, and the air we breathe. Plants take up these metals as they grow and can end up in the food we eat. Our bodies need some heavy metals (like iron and zinc) to work well, but other heavy metals (like arsenic and lead) are harmful. Some crops, like rice, absorb more of these harmful metals than others. Heavy metals can build up in the body over time and cause problems with learning, behavior, and attention.

When making baby food, companies add vitamins and minerals along with food additives that may contain heavy metals. Some baby foods have higher levels of heavy metals than others, including:

  • infant rice cereal
  • infant rice puff snacks
  • teething biscuits and rice rusks
  • fruit juice
  • carrots and sweet potatoes

Even organic baby food can have heavy metals in it.

The amount of heavy metals is low in baby foods, but you can take steps to lower it even more. Here are ways to do that:

  • Offer your baby a variety of healthy foods. Eating a balanced diet can lower your baby's overall exposure to heavy metals.
  • Don't only give infant rice cereal. Give your baby other cereals like oatmeal, barley, quinoa, and multigrain cereals.
  • Keep giving carrots and sweet potatoes. They contain important nutrients, but serve them along with other fruits and vegetables.
  • Don't give your baby fruit juice. Juice is not recommended for children under 1 year old because it can cause cavities and weight gain. Formula or breast milk for infants and water and milk for older children are the best drinks. Instead of juice, give your baby fruit because it has more fiber and nutrients.
  • Make your own baby food. You can avoid additives and baby foods with high levels of heavy metals by making your own. Serve the same foods your family eats, prepared in a way that your baby can eat. Infants just starting solid food will need smooth purées.
  • Choose white basmati rice and sushi rice when making rice dishes. These kinds of rice have less arsenic than other types. Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Cook rice in plenty of water, and then drain off the extra water. This helps lower the amount of arsenic.
  • Limit baby food snacks, including rice puffs and oat ring cereals. Instead of processed snacks, give your baby puréed, mashed, or soft foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, or yogurt. This also helps your baby eat less added sugar, salt, and refined flour. If you serve your baby prepared snacks, choose rice-free or multigrain options.
  • Don't use teething biscuits. Instead, give your baby a cold (not frozen) teether or wet washcloth to chew on.
  • Test your water. Tap water may have lead in it from lead pipes. Well water may contain lead and other heavy metals.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2021