When news reports were released last week about a Congressional report regarding heavy metals found in baby food, there was a great concern among parents of little ones and you might have been among them.
While the research released was nothing new, it did bring the issue of heavy metals in baby food back into the spotlight and reminds us that we need to demand more transparency when it comes to the food we serve our families.
But, we still wanted to learn more about heavy metals in baby food which is why we turned to Dr. Rachel Dawkins, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, to find out what we can do as parents to better protect our children and babies.
TBPM: Dr. Dawkins, can you first tell us more about this recent report for those who may just be learning about it?
Dr. Dawkins: There were studies done a couple of year ago, it seems Congress took this up as a concern so what actually just out was a Congressional report about heavy metals in infant foods. As a pediatrician, I had already heard about this, read about this, but there are some moms of young babies who are freaking out and calling the office almost immediately.
Most of the time, I tell the moms not to worry. This is not something new. We know there are heavy metals in baby foods which is of course very concerning, so first I tell them not to worry and we can definitely make some changes to our babies diets to mitigate the effects of the heavy metals in some of these foods.
TBPM: What changes are you recommending to your patients?
Dr. Dawkins: The biggest change is–[years ago] we used to tell moms to start with rice cereal for their babies as their first foods…we no know rice actually has a lot of arsenic in it, so I-years ago switched to telling parents baby oatmeal rather than rice.
One hidden source of rice that parents might not know about is that a lot of the puffs kids eta are rice products, so one of the biggest changes families can make is to try to limit that. You don’t necessarily have to get rid of all of it, but limit the amount of rice products your baby might eat.
TBPM: Are there any alternatives to puffs for snacks? Maybe Cheerios or something similar?
Dr. Dawkins: Oatmeal based products -you could definitely use Cheerios. The yogurt melts are probably the closest alternative I can think of that aren’t rice based.
And then, think about certain vegetables that are high in some of those metals, so switching from sweet potatoes to butternut squash is a good alternative, One big one is carrots–carrots also have a lot of metals-those are very common foods for infants, so switching from carrots to maybe peas is better.
But I usually tell parents, give your kids a variety of food and they are going to be just fine. As long as they are rotating and eating a lot of different things, they are really going to be just fine.
TBPM: We know the metals are naturally occurring and in the soil, so is organic an alternative?
Dr. Dawkins: Yes, [heavy metals are in organic food, too.] All of these metals occur in the soil so any of these root vegetables or rice are grown in soil that contains these metals. We know in the manufacturing part of making baby food there might be some added metals but even if you are making your own baby food, children are going to be exposed to those heavy metals and we are really concerned about that. Arsenic and lead are two of the most common.
TBPM: What are your favorite first foods for baby?
Dr. Dawkins: Besides oatmeal, I always think of things like avocado as can easy one because parents can ‘make’ that themselves. Baby food isn’t hard to make but it is labor intensive, so it’s not for everyone, but you can mash up an avocado with a fork and add some breastmilk or formula to make it an easy first food.
Other first foods Dr. Hawkins mentioned: veggies like butternut squash and peas, fruit, bananas, like avocado-are easy to mash and feed to baby when on the go.
When you first start out on foods, give one food at a time to make sure your child doesn’t have any kind of reaction to that. And, even if you are preparing the foods yourself or using organic food, you are still going to have these metals in them, so just watch the type of food you are eating, so the number one thing would be anything with rice.
TBPM: Juice was another one that made the list of products containing concerning levels of heavy metals. What are your thoughts on juice?
Dr. Dawkins: To be honest, juice doesn’t have any nutritional benefits, even if it’s 100% fruit juice, it’s not good for babies.
TBPM: Should we limit some of the root vegetables we feed our older children?
Dr. Dawkins: We really think about it with babies because they consume so much more food compared to their size, so as you get older, you’re not consuming as much food per pound as babies are, so really they should be okay. If they ate a diet entirely of sweet potatoes, they’d turn orange and you’d probably stop.
TBPM: Do you think we need to do more to demand more regulations in the baby food industry?
Dr. Dawkins: Transparency is what we need to strive for and knowing what we are giving our kids and our families. I know the Food and Drug Administration is really trying to focus on making sure that parents know about these things and I think in the Congressional report, it said some companies didn’t give their information to Congress which was a concerning, but the ones that did…from typical companies we all know like Gerber to the organic companies showed that there were higher levels than we might like. I think knowing what is in our foods and labeling them is really important.
Talk to your pediatrician-that’s what we’re here for.
TBPM: So you definitely saw a spike in calls from concerned parents once the story was released?
Dr. Dawkins: Immediately got messages through the patient portal asking what should I do, should I stop feeding my baby the pouches. I’m trying to reassure everyone that this has been a long standing issue that we’ve know about -if you kid is growing and developing well, just make sure they are eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and they’ll be just fine.
TBPM: So in a nutshell?
Dr. Dawkins: Be aware, but don’t freak out about it.
More stories from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital:
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- When Do We Need Antibiotics: Myths and Facts
- Safe Sleep Tips for Parents:6 Tips to Keep Baby Safe