How To Know If Baby Food Is Safe
When it comes to feeding our babies, we want to give them the very best but recent research suggests that many baby foods contain heavy metals. So what should we do? In this article, Registered Dietitian, Cathey Stoner shares tips on decreasing toxin exposure and how to choose the best baby foods.
Store-bought baby food has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently due to reports of toxins and heavy metals being found in even popular “healthier” brands.
This is an important point of research and discussion, however, there are many additional factors to consider when choosing the best food for your baby.
We see that even in homemade baby food, toxins and heavy metals can still be detected. This is because many of the toxins are coming from the soil or water systems where the produce is grown.
In this article, I will discuss:
- The best baby food choices
- Baby foods to caution
- Tips to decrease exposure to toxins and heavy metals in baby food
Scroll down to learn more!
The best baby food choices
In a perfect world, we would cook our own baby food at home using organic ingredients, but that isn’t always possible. Store-bought baby food can be helpful for many reasons. It is convenient, easy, portable, and can help introduce babies to foods they may not otherwise try.
So now, where is a good place to start? Research suggests that incorporating a variety of foods in a baby’s diet can decrease toxin exposure. Giving your baby a variety of foods allows them to try different textures and flavors. This helps to promote adequate nutrient intake and prevent picky eating patterns from developing later on.
So, what foods are safer for your baby to eat?
Foods reportedly low in heavy metals and arsenic include:
- Freshwater fish
- Most organic fruits & vegetables
- Whole grains
- Organic oats and oat-based products
These are all nutrient-dense, fresh foods we can focus on eating more of.
Baby food to caution
Like many parents, you may have read the recent headlines concerning heavy metals and toxins found in baby foods and fruit juices.
A report from Health Babies Bright Future states, “A national investigation finds 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic chemicals that lower babies’ IQ, including arsenic and lead.”
This is a really concerning finding so let’s focus on how to decrease exposure.
Rice cereals were top-ranked on the toxic baby food list because of their naturally high arsenic content. Up until recently, rice cereal was traditionally recommended as a great first food because of its added iron content and it’s easy for babies to digest. However, we now know that the type of iron found in rice cereal isn’t well absorbed and rice doesn’t provide much nutritional benefit to babies anyway. If parents choose grains to start, I recommend organic baby oatmeal instead because it is generally higher in fiber.
Many other baby food products are made with rice as an ingredient: puffs, teethers, many baby-friendly pasta, bars, and biscuits. Better options in this category of foods would include veggie straws or oat-based products.
Fruit Juices, Formula and Vegetable purees
Certain fruit juices, infant formulas, sweet potato and carrot purees were also found to contain toxins and heavy metals. While these are products we don’t have to eliminate, we do need to be cautious about using them.
For all babies under 12 months of age, breastmilk or organic formula should always be the main source of nutrition and fluids. Filtered water can be introduced at 12 months and juice should be limited to 4 ounces/day and should have no sugar added.
Tips to decrease exposure to toxins and heavy metals in baby food
#1 Limit exposure
- Offer your baby a variety of different foods.
- Replace baby rice cereal with organic oatmeal, mixed grain, quinoa, barley or buckwheat.
- Choose rice-free snacks such as unsweetened applesauce (unsweetened), bananas, barley with diced vegetables, stewed stone fruits.
- Limit fruit juices. Tap water, milk, and whole/pureed fruits are better choices for kids aged 12 months+
- Offer organic sweet potatoes and carrots occasionally.
- Focus on the foods you CAN eat/offer without limit.
#2 Choose Organic and Non-GMO
When buying baby foods, I recommend choosing organic and non-GMO when possible. Check labels to make sure all ingredients are from real foods (ex: black beans, pears, peas etc) in order to avoid extra additives and preservatives.
Many store-bought baby foods’ main ingredient is fruit, making every meal sweet for babies. These are absolutely fine on occasion, but generally, they are higher in sugar. So, we want to be sure to offer savory flavors as well.
Our babies experience significant growth with major developmental milestones between 6–12 months and their nutrient requirements increase, specifically their iron needs. Therefore, it is important to include high iron foods such as chicken, eggs, beans, beef, and fish into baby’s mealtime. These foods can also help provide texture, which encourages baby to advance to more solid foods during this time and supports the physical skills used to eat, chew, and swallow safely.
#3 Wash your produce
Even as adults, we are exposed to toxins, additives, and pesticides in our food. Some vegetables may even contain harmful bacteria like E. coli. Washing produce with clean water is an important step for removing bacteria and pesticides, but it probably won’t help to remove toxins. Something to consider would be to grow your own fruits and vegetables where you can better control outside toxin exposure and the soil quality. If you do decide to grow your own produce, it’s important to first test the soil for contaminants before getting started. However, again, the goal isn’t to be perfect, but to decrease exposure.
The good news is that in light of current information, the FDA and other organizations, like the Environmental Defense Fund, will begin to better evaluate how foods are being produced, manufactured, and tested.
Interviews, stories, and guides on thetot.com contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or a qualified health professional.
- Trying to figure out how to choose a more sustainable and non-toxic baby bottle? In our How to Choose a Baby Bottle Guide, we go over the pros and cons of plastic, glass, silicone and stainless steel baby bottles as well as what you need to consider when choosing nipples, shape and size!
- Looking for safer infant formula? Whether you’re formula-feeding exclusively or you’re supplementing with breastmilk, we’ve put together your one-stop guide for feeding your baby formula.