ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- As part of National Child Health Day, Army Public Health Nurses are hoping to clarify concerns about heavy metals in certain baby foods by providing useful guidance to parents and other providers about reducing children’s exposures to these potentially toxic substances.
Jouelle Lamaute, an APHN working for the Army Public Health Center, led the preparation of an informative handout on heavy metals in baby foods for Army-wide use.
“Heavy metals are naturally found in the environment and can enter many food and drinking products through growing or manufacturing processes,” says Lamaute. “But a 2019 study conducted by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found concerning levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in several U.S. manufactured baby foods, which led to congressional scrutiny of the laws and procedures for manufacturing and marketing baby food.”
Since the Food and Drug Administration has not yet established a regulatory requirement for heavy metals in baby food, there are currently no product recalls and the Department of Defense has no legal recourse to test baby foods or remove them from military commissaries.
The 2019 study found that rice- and rice-based puff products, teething biscuits, fruit drinks and root vegetable products had the highest amounts of metals.
While these products are reasonably considered to be the “higher risk” baby foods, Lamaute points out that other heavy metal exposures – such as from old water pipes, paint chips, cosmetics, spices and secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes are potentially more concerning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, states that “the low levels of heavy metals found in baby foods likely are a relatively small part of a child's overall toxic metal exposure risk. However, exposure from all sources should be minimized.”
Lamaute explains that an accumulation of exposure can lead to high levels of heavy metals that can harm brain development of infants and children. High levels of heavy metals have also been linked to problems with learning, cognition, and behavior.
The best prevention parents can take to decrease their children’s overall heavy metal exposure is eliminating common high level sources of heavy metals in the home. Specifically, parents should —
- Get their tap water tested.
- Ensure lead paint is not present or has been properly abated in older homes.
- Eliminate air and surface contamination by not smoking/vaping.
It’s healthy for infants and children to eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein and healthy fish foods, but parents can limit foods with higher concentrations of heavy metals with the following tips—
- Choose rice-free packaged snacks (avoid rice cereal, rice milk and brown rice syrup) such as products with oats, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, bulgur, or white basmati and sushi rice.
- Choose snacks with fewer contaminants such as apples, unsweetened applesauce, bananas, barley with diced vegetables, beans, cheese, cut grapes, hard-boiled eggs, peaches, and yogurt.
- Use frozen fruit pieces like bananas or strawberries, instead of teething biscuits, to sooth sore gums.
- Offer filtered tap water, milk, or puree fruits instead of fruit juices.
- Wash fruits and vegetables in cool water before preparing and serving.
- Limit root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes that absorb more metals from the soil.
- Include weekly servings of seafood like solid or chunk light tuna, salmon, cod, whitefish, and pollock, but consult the FDA’s guidelines for best amounts of different seafood types (1 – 3 days per week; a serving is 1 ounce at age 2 and increases with age to 4 ounces by age 11) to minimize exposure to metals like mercury.
- Consider making your own baby food, though be aware that making your own baby food will not completely eliminate heavy metals from your child’s diet. For information on making baby food, visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/Is-it-OK-to-make-my-own-baby-food.aspx
For more information about various ways to ensure your child’s health – see the APHC’s Child Health, Safety, and Wellness webpage.
The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.