Baby food contaminated with heavy metals

On the supermarket shelves, we find hundreds of varieties of baby food, ranging from purees, sauces, cereals, and fruit and vegetable snacks. Over time, experts have discovered concerning amounts of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic in these products. A study conducted by the Healthy Babies, Bright Futures association found that 94% of baby foods and homemade purees made from raw ingredients contained detectable amounts of heavy metals. Lead was found in 90% of baby foods, arsenic in 68%, and cadmium in 65% of baby products. In most cases, these levels of heavy metals fall within the legal limits. However, if infants consume contaminated products frequently and in large quantities, they may face health issues.

  1. Baby foods with a high risk of heavy metal contamination
  2. How do heavy metals end up in baby food?
  3. What is the recommended portion size?
  4. Health risks associated with heavy metals
  5. Low-risk alternatives for baby food



  1. Baby foods with a high risk of heavy metal contamination

Several commercially available baby foods have been analyzed by experts from Consumer Reports, and products containing rice and sweet potatoes pose a high risk of heavy metal contamination.

Experts recommend consuming less than one serving per day of products containing sweet potatoes. Similarly, they recommend consuming less than 1.5 servings per day of the five out of seven rice-based products analyzed. For Gerber Chicken Rice and Turkey Rice Dinners, the limit is less than half a serving.

On the other hand, children may consume up to 3.5 servings per day of carrot and pear products.

Heavy metals have also been found in baby snacks, particularly teething biscuits and rice rusks. Many of them are made with rice, which is a major concern. Rice rusks, in particular, are problematic.

The daily limit for banana teething biscuits (Hot Kid Baby Mum-Mum) is less than 2 servings per day, but according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 5% of children consume 3.5 servings of this type of food daily. The organic Superfood Puffs (Happy Baby) have a daily limit, according to Consumer Reports, of less than 1.5 servings, which is approximately 75 puffs.



  1. How do heavy metals end up in baby food?

Most of the baby food found in supermarkets is made from vegetables. Contamination with heavy metals comes from how they are grown and the fact that these foods have a particular capacity to accumulate certain metals from the soil.

Sweet potatoes and carrots, for example, absorb lead during their growth. Additionally, any root vegetable can collect lead on their outer surface from the surrounding soil. Heavy metals like lead are naturally present in the Earth’s crust, but levels tend to be higher in certain areas, often due to industrial or agricultural activities.

Any soil can contain lead, but higher levels can be found near highways due to the use of leaded gasoline, or near small airports where leaded gasoline is still used. Levels can also be elevated near orchards and cotton fields where lead arsenate pesticides were previously used.

In the case of rice, arsenic is a particular concern because when this heavy metal is present in the soil or, especially, in water, the plant takes it up instead of other minerals.

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  1. What is the recommended portion size?

The recommended portion size for babies is always mentioned on the label of baby food products. However, it can be challenging for parents to completely eliminate store-bought foods from their baby’s diet. The issue arises when parents offer much larger portions to their little ones than what is recommended by the manufacturers. This can lead to children consuming a significant amount of these foods and the heavy metals they contain.

Here are some approximate portion sizes when you don’t have the means to weigh the product:

  • Cereals – 50 flakes (110 grams)
  • Teething biscuits – 4 pieces
  • Crunchy bars – one piece
  • Fruit/vegetable puree – one jar

Commercial baby food, besides the presence of heavy metals, often lacks significant nutritional value. For example, although some may be fortified with vitamins and minerals, they are primarily made from white rice flour and lack fiber or protein. Additionally, some may have added sugar, which should not be given to children under 2 years of age.

It’s important to note that organic baby food is not necessarily healthier. Organic foods are less likely to have pesticide residues, but there is still the same probability of containing heavy metals.


  1. Heavy Metals, Health Risks

Heavy metals, whether we are talking about adults or infants, are eliminated from the body with difficulty and can remain in the body for years. For this reason, excessive long-term consumption of products at risk of heavy metal contamination can seriously affect health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that infants exposed to lead can experience brain and nervous system development problems. Approximately 2.5% of children under the age of five are estimated to be exposed to dangerous levels of lead. As a result, they may experience slowed growth, learning disabilities, behavioral issues, hearing and speech problems. Arsenic is present in several products and is considered a carcinogen by experts. It can increase the risk of developing bladder, lung, and skin cancer. It has also been associated with neurological disorders in development and a higher probability of infant mortality.

For example, researchers at Duke University analyzed 565 adults who had their lead levels measured in childhood. Those with high lead levels in childhood had an average intelligence quotient (IQ) score 4.25 points lower than those with lower lead levels in childhood.

Exposure to inorganic arsenic can also affect intelligence quotient (IQ), according to a recent study conducted by Columbia University on students in grades three to five in the state of Maine. Students exposed to arsenic in drinking water had an average IQ score 5 to 6 points lower than students who were not exposed.


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  1. L ow-Risk Food Alternatives

It is clear that these fruits, vegetables, or commercially available baby products cannot be completely eliminated from the diet of infants. Therefore, there are a few tips that can help:

  • Do not feed infants the same vegetable-containing products for several consecutive days. Serve them in rotation.
  • The more varied the diet, the lower the amount of heavy metals ingested.
  • Create a nutrient-rich diet with vitamins such as vitamin C, calcium, and iron. These vitamins can help offset some of the negative effects of heavy metals and may help avoid excessive consumption of heavy metals from a particular food.
  • Choose options with low levels of heavy metals, such as infant cereals made from oats and other whole grains (except rice); fresh and frozen fruits; peas, green beans, and pumpkin; baby meat; eggs; beans; unsalted applesauce; cheese; and yogurt.
  • Avoid purchasing rice-based baby food from the market. Instead, prepare your own rice and cook it in a large amount of water, similar to cooking pasta. According to the FDA, this can reduce arsenic content by 40 to 60 percent.
  • Limit your child’s consumption of apple juice and grape juice, as tests conducted by Consumer Reports in 2019 found that they generally contain higher levels of inorganic arsenic and lead compared to other fruit juices.
  • Minimize the consumption of baby snacks, as they are more likely to contain heavy metals and are more heavily processed foods.


Heavy metals are present in most baby food products. While the quantities are typically within the legal limits, they can still pose a risk. Frequent and long-term consumption of foods containing heavy metals can seriously affect health. This is particularly important to consider when it comes to infants who are at key stages of development. A varied diet, homemade food preparation, and limiting consumption are just a few ways parents can ensure the safety of their babies.


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