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New study says homemade baby food Is no safer than store bought

What to do to keep heavy metals out of your baby's food

Keep your baby safe from heavy metals

Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) released a new study finding detectable amounts of toxic heavy metals in 94% of all food samples tested. The study was designed to find if homemade baby food is safer than store-bought and found no evidence to suggest that homemade baby food has lower heavy metal levels than store-bought brands.

To see if homemade baby food has less heavy metals, HBBF's new report measured 288 baby foods and their "family food" equivalents

Ninety-four percent of store-bought baby food and 94% of homemade purees and family brand foods showed detectable levels of toxic heavy metals.

In 2019, HBBF found that 95% of baby foods tested were contaminated with toxic heavy metals. Concerns grew when a 2021 Congressional investigation found baby foods to be tainted with "dangerous levels" of toxic heavy metals like lead and arsenic.

HBBF wanted to know if the DIY work-around actually works. To find the answer, HBBF tested 288 foods and examined FDA data from 7,000+ additional lab analyses. The top findings were:

  • The study found four foods to avoid completely, 14 foods safe to serve freely, and 22 to limit or rotate.
  • Rice cakes and crisped rice cereal are heavily contaminated with arsenic. They contain higher levels of inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form of arsenic) than any other foods tested. Both stand out as foods to avoid.
  • Lead, arsenic, and cadmium levels are high in some fresh carrots and sweet potatoes. We recommend that parents vary the source by choosing from different brands, varieties, or stores each week to avoid accidentally serving a high-metal source often.
  • The 10 foods most heavily contaminated by lead and arsenic, beginning with the highest, 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.
  • The problem of heavy metals in baby food has a disproportionate impact for low-income families and families of color. They are more likely to eat rice-based foods high in heavy metals and are more likely to be exposed to heavy metals found in old lead paint and in contaminated air and water.

"Parents shouldn't have to worry about the safety of their babies' meals and snacks," says Jane Houlihan, HBBF's Research Director and the lead author of the study. "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."

READ MORE: 5 tips to encourage picky eaters

Until foods with reliably low heavy metal levels are widely available, parents can choose and prepare foods in ways that significantly reduce babies' exposures by following HBBF's Parent Guide: The Data-Driven Guide to Healthy Baby Food. A healthy, varied diet avoids inadvertently ingesting too much of one heavy metal and ensures an important mix of nutrients.

Research continues to confirm lifelong deficits in intelligence from exposures to these common food contaminants: children in the U.S. lose an estimated 11 million IQ points from birth to 24 months of age from dietary sources of lead and arsenic. 

Despite these risks, with few exceptions, there are no specific limits for toxic heavy metals in baby food. To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set or proposed limits for heavy metals in only two baby foods—infant rice cereal and juice—leaving the burden on parents to navigate the risks for all other foods.

"FDA's Closer to Zero program needs to live up to its name and set limits that will make the heavy metal contamination of our food much closer to zero," says Charlotte Brody, RN, National Director at Healthy Babies Bright Futures. "This study shows that lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals are in all baby food brands, fresh produce, and packaged family brands. To get the levels of heavy metals meaningfully closer to zero, FDA must go beyond the baby food aisle and set strong standards for these contaminants."

About Healthy Babies Bright Futures: At Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), we design our work to measurably reduce the largest sources of babies' exposures to toxic chemicals that harm brain development. We target chemicals with the strongest body of evidence supporting their role in developmental harm in the first one thousand days of development.

SOURCE Healthy Babies Bright Futures

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