The Scoop on Baby Food (Part 2)
Now that you understand the basic principles around introducing solids, let’s delve a little deeper into feeding your baby. (If you missed part 1, you can read it here).
As we all know, the news can often scare us (I mean we are currently living in a global pandemic!) without providing enough information so we can protect ourselves and our families. Case in point: A recent report about the presence of heavy metals in commercial baby foods scared a lot of parents—but most parents were left with more questions than answers. What does this mean for the safety of our babies? Are pureed Gerber green beans or Beechnut pears no longer acceptable first foods?
I am here to give you the answers you’ve been waiting for!
Let’s first break it down a bit. What even are heavy metals? A heavy metal is a kind of chemical element, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, that can get into our food through natural and artificial ways. These heavy metals are naturally occurring in soil, water or air, meaning plants absorb them as they grow. Heavy metals can also get into our food during processing and manufacturing by coming into contact with machinery or other equipment that contains the metals.
So, what are the consequences if babies ingest heavy metals? In large amounts, heavy metals can cause behavioral and learning problems, increase their risk of cancer, as well as slow growth and development.
Why are we just learning of this? In 2019, a report found that 95% of the baby foods that were tested contained heavy metals. Of course, this led to a lot of uneasiness among new parents. Then, more recently in February 2021, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Consumer Policy also released a report commenting on the presence of heavy metals in commercial baby foods.
What do we do with this information? Should we change the way we feed our babies? Let me share some key takeaways from your trusty pediatric dietitian that will help you understand the issue and determine what to do in a way that makes sense for you and your baby:
1. As of right now, it’s very difficult to say whether commercial baby foods contain more heavy metals than baby food made at home. No studies have come out that compare the two. It’s safe to assume that homemade baby food would contain at least some heavy metals since these substances occur naturally. And, since there is no mandatory testing or reporting of heavy metals in baby food, it is difficult to say how prevalent heavy metals truly are in commercial baby food.
2. The best thing that we can do for our babies is to offer them a wide variety of foods. All baby foods, regardless of whether they are store-bought or homemade, provide energy and nutrients to our child, which is the most important thing! By and large, you can avoid issues from over-consumption of certain substances by limiting how much your baby eats of certain foods rather than avoiding them altogether. Here’s an example with my own diet. I love tuna. Tuna melts, tuna salad, a seared filet – I love tuna in every way. While I understand that mercury poisoning is a real concern, I just make sure to eat a variety of protein sources rather than eating tuna every day.
3. Since rice tends to absorb more arsenic than other crops, consider supplementing the rice-based products you feed your baby, like rice cereal, with other grain products, like oatmeal. It has also been found that white rice contains less arsenic than brown rice. So it may be worth choosing white rice in addition to a variety of other grains, such as oats, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, bulgur, etc.
The bottom line: Remain calm about the recent reports about heavy metals in commercial baby foods and prioritize feeding your baby a variety of either store-bought or homemade, nutritious foods!