Heavy Metals in Baby Food: What You Need to Know
Summary: We all want to do what's best for our little ones, but lax manufacturing standards can pose significant dangers when it comes to baby nutrition. Learn all about the risk of heavy metal contamination in baby food and what you can do about it.
You see them everywhere: Baby food packages that boast about being 100 percent organic or safe for consumption by any baby of a certain age. These baby foods may only list a few ingredients on their labels, and they have the approval of your favorite food co-op or natural foods store. However, many of these baby foods could be harboring just as many heavy metals as conventional options, and you'll need to know everything that you can about how to avoid heavy metals in baby food if you want to protect your child's enduring health.
How Do Heavy Metals Harm Children?
The human body needs lots of different vitamins and minerals to survive, and your baby's diet should contain plenty of iron and zinc, for instance, if you want to make sure that he or she grows up into a healthy adult. However, other types of heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium have no place in the food supply, and these metals can harm your baby if he or she digests them.
If you accidentally expose your children to heavy metals as they are developing, they could end up having lower IQ and issues with their behavior. Some scientists have also linked exposure to heavy metals with the development of autism in children, and it appears that heavy metals contribute to the development of ADHD.
While these developmental concerns are worrying enough on their own, heavy metals may continue to harm your child well into adulthood. One of the biggest dangers posed by heavy metals is that they tend to accumulate in organ tissues, and they can decrease the efficiency of your kidneys and liver. If your baby consumes these dangerous ingredients frequently over the course of a number of years, they will be more at risk of developing skin, lung, and bladder cancer, and they may have reproductive and cognitive problems. What's worse, kids who ingest high levels of heavy metals will also be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In general, children who ingest heavy metals are more at risk for practically every type of disease and ailment.
Which Baby Foods Contain Heavy Metals?
Unfortunately, many types of baby food made by major international manufacturers are contaminated with heavy metals. For instance, practically every offering from the baby food giant Gerber contains dangerously high levels of heavy metals. Many products from Earth's Best, which styles itself as an all-natural baby food company, also contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, and disturbingly, a few offerings from Sprout, which is an organic baby food manufacturer, are also contaminated.
How Risky Is the Baby Food Market?
As you search through the baby food market, it's probably best to simply assume that most of the products you find are contaminated with heavy metals. While this point of view may seem paranoid, it's the best conclusion to reach in light of the evidence. The ideal way to feed your baby is to rely on breastmilk for as long as possible and then transition into fresh foods that you can source directly from the farm. No matter who makes them, packaged foods are more likely to be dangerous to your baby or toddler's health than foods that local farmers grow with verifiable organic practices, and the convenience of grabbing a packaged snack whenever your baby is fussy is greatly outweighed by the potential that choice has to permanently damage your unique child.
How Do Heavy Metals End Up in Baby Food?
Most heavy metals in foods end up there because of pollution. Unsafe farming and manufacturing practices release heavy metals into the environment, and plants then absorb these heavy metals through their roots. While all foods can be exposed to heavy metals, packaged foods can pick up even more of these dangerous contaminants in the manufacturing process. In many cases, however, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly how heavy metals end up in baby food because manufacturers aren't transparent about their processes.
What Can Parents Do?
The best thing you can do as a parent to protect your child from heavy metals in their foods is to be extremely careful in selecting the types of food that you offer them. A USDA Organic logo isn't enough to ensure that there aren't any heavy metals in your kid's food; you'll either need to get in touch with the company directly or learn if they've submitted to more stringent forms of testing. For instance, the baby formulas made by the European brand Holle have passed the significantly tougher organic certification requirements of the European Union, and they have also been tested by Demeter, which is one of the most trusted organic food certification companies in the world. When a company has the Demeter seal of approval, it's very unlikely that their products contain heavy metals, but you should still learn as much about the company's manufacturing processes as possible to ensure that your kids will grow up big and strong.
What Needs to Change to Make Baby Food Safe?
It's possible that packaged baby foods will never be safe. However, a great place to start when it comes to cleaning up the baby food industry would be greater regulation on the heavy metal content of baby food. At this point, the FDA doesn't regulate the baby food industry in terms of heavy metals, which means that baby food manufacturers aren't under any legal onus to protect your kids from arsenic, lead, and cadmium. Manufacturers need to be more transparent with their customers, and they need to stop cutting corners to steal profits from the long-term health of your children.
- Jennifer Akiyama