The Scary Truth About Heavy Metals in Baby Food

A bombshell new report revealed that there is a shocking amount of heavy metals in baby food—even organic food! Here’s what you need to know.

Heavy Metals in Baby Food baby post by Mama Natural

From the first drops of colostrum, to breastfeeding, to baby’s first foods, we always want to give our babies the very best. That’s why it’s so shocking when we find out something that’s made specifically for baby—something that we’ve taken so much care to select—is actually toxic.

In a new report, 95% of baby food tested contained heavy metals…

That’s right—our community was shocked when a bombshell new report from the organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) came out stating the vast majority of baby food tested—even organic baby food—was toxic.

Of course any amount of metal in baby food of any kind is a problem, but when the problem is this prevalent that tells us that we have a real systemic issue on our hands—that this isn’t just one or two irresponsible companies; we’re facing contaminated soil, poor irrigation problems, and other major dilemmas.

Unfortunately, that means this isn’t an easy fix. To see a difference, we need environmental remediation and policy change at minimum, and organizations—like Serenity Kids—are working on this.

Here’s what we know about heavy metals in baby food…

The following heavy metals were all discovered in baby food:

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Lead

A whopping 94 percent (!) of the baby food tested contained lead.

This is highly alarming, because any amount of lead is toxic to humans, and especially babies. Lead exposure is linked with ADD, behavioral issues, and problems in school. In fact, studies show that even children with low levels of lead in their blood perform worse on standardized tests.

Lead was most prevalent in the following foods:

  • Infant rice cereals
  • Rice puffs
  • Sweet potato
  • Non-rice snacks and teethers
  • Infant cereals (wheat, oat, etc.)
  • Carrots
  • Teething biscuits
  • Fruit juice

Cadmium

A total of 75 percent of the baby foods tested contained cadmium.

This toxin is linked with brain damage, learning disabilities, cancer, and kidney, bone, and heart damage. What’s more, scientists now know that this damage happens even at levels previously deemed safe by the medical community.

Cadmium was most prevalent in the following foods:

  • Rice puffs
  • Other baby cereals
  • Infant rice cereal
  • Non-rice snacks and teethers
  • Carrots
  • Teething biscuits
  • Sweet potato

Arsenic

Tests showed that 73 percent of baby foods contained arsenic.

This heavy metal can cause various cancers and harms the developing brain and nervous system. In fact, one study found drinking water with arsenic at half the allowable limit still caused IQ loss.

Arsenic was most prevalent in the following foods:

  • Rice puffs
  • Infant rice cereal
  • Teething biscuits
  • Other infant cereals
  • Non-rice snacks and teethers
  • Sweet potato
  • Fruit juice (primarily apple juice)

Mercury

Of the baby foods tested, 32 percent contained mercury.

Mercury lowers IQ and is known to cause brain damage, disrupt development and learning, and may contribute to cancer. Mercury also damages the nervous system, kidneys, and digestive system. (source)

Mercury was most prevalent in the following foods:

  • Infant rice cereal
  • Rice husks and teething biscuits
  • Rice puffs
  • Non-rice teethers
  • Other cereals
  • Carrots

The Most Toxic Baby Foods to Avoid

Experts estimate children ages newborn to two years old lose more than 11 million IQ points from exposure to lead and arsenic in food.

Yikes—that’s a lot to digest. Heavy metals in baby food can do a lot of harm, and the list of food affected is alarmingly long. So what are parents who just wants the best, healthiest option for their children to do? For starters, you can avoid the biggest offenders, which include:

#1 Rice

Farmers grow rice in flooded fields, which makes the crop more likely to absorb inorganic arsenic from pesticides used during farming.

Worst rice options

Tests show that nearly all baby food with rice contains unsafe levels of arsenic, but here are the top offenders in order:

  • HappyBABY Organic rice cakes puffed rice snack
  • BioKinetics Brown Rice Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Baby Cereal
  • O Organics Apple Strawberry rice puffs
  • Simple Truth Organic  Whole Grain Puffs
  • Happy BABY Superfood puffs – Organic Grain Snack
  • Healthy Times Organic Brown Rice Cereal
  • Earth’s Best whole grain rice cereal
  • Beech- Nut Rice baby cereal
  • Nosh! Baby Munchables Organic Teething Wafers
  • Parent’s Choice Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks
  • Sprout Organic quinoa puffs baby cereal snack
  • Gerber rice cereal
  • Baby Mum-Mum Banana Rice Rusks
  • Comforts (Kroger brand) Blueberry little puffs cereal snack
  • Kitchdee organic baby cereal rice and lentil
  • Earth’s Best chicken and brown rice organic baby food meal

Safest Option: Unprocessed White Rice

White rice is safer than brown (even organic brown rice), since the outside hull absorbs most of the pesticides and heavy metals.

White Basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan has the lowest levels of toxic heavy metals. Cooking rice in extra water then draining it can also reduce arsenic by up to 60 percent. The best option, though, may be to skip the rice altogether—it’s low in nutrients and contributes to tooth decay. (source)

#2 Sweet Potatoes and Carrots

Root vegetables absorb more toxins from the soil, especially carrots and sweet potatoes. In tests, these foods contained high levels of lead and cadmium, but some also contained mercury and arsenic.

Worst Sweet Potato and Carrot Options

Even some of the organic brands had just as much (or more!) toxic heavy metals as the conventional brands did. Here are the worst offenders:

  • Beech-Nut Classics (not organic)
  • Gerber
  • Earth’s Best (organic)

Best Options for Sweet Potato and Carrot Baby Food

Some of the organic veggie options tested were relatively low in toxic metals, but all still had some. Researchers recommended eating these foods in moderation along with other nutritious foods. Tests show that these are the safest choices overall:

  • Meijer True Goodness Organic Carrots
  • O Organics Organic carrot baby food
  • HappyBABY Organics Sweet Potatoes stage 1
  • Meijer True Goodness Organic sweet potato baby food

Pumpkin and winter squash are also great options. They have similar nutrients, but contain much lower levels of heavy metals than carrots and sweet potatoes, since they’re grown above ground.

#4 Fruit Juice

Apple and grape juice are some of the worst offenders—they contain arsenic and lead.

Worst Juice Options

According to tests, these varieties contained the largest amounts of heavy metals:

  • Gerber
  • Juicy Juice

Healthiest Juice Options

The AAP doesn’t recommend fruit juice—even diluted juice—but if you want to serve it, choose organic, minimally processed juice and reserve it only for special occasions.

So What Are Some Safer Alternatives?

These foods tested relatively low in heavy metals and are better options than even the “best” options on the lists above. They’re safer since they aren’t grown in the soil (like sweet potatoes and carrots) or drowned in contaminated water (like rice).

Just note that some of the foods on this list are still exposed to high levels of pesticides, so it’s important to choose organic whenever possible.

  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers
  • Apples
  • White beans
  • Cheese
  • Grapes
  • Eggs
  • Peaches
  • Yogurt
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut squash
  • Green beans
  • Pears
  • Prunes

What Else Can You Do About Heavy Metals in Baby Food?

Choosing safer food options is a good start, but there’s more parents can do about heavy metals in baby food. Here are some things you can do right now to help block heavy metal absorption.

Increase Glutathione

Our bodies make the antioxidant glutathione to help detox our systems. Glutathione binds to heavy metals, including mercury, so they can then be excreted. Foods rich in sulfur support glutathione production and include onions, garlic, and cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, and cauliflower. Onions and garlic aren’t on the menu for most babies, but many will eat the others on this list.

These veggies can cause gas and tummy troubles for baby, but cooking them with a little grated ginger aids digestion. A little ginger goes a long way though!

Take vitamin C

Vitamin C helps boost glutathione production, but it’s also a potent antioxidant of its own. In this animal study vitamin C reversed blood damage caused by mercury and cadmium. The vitamin also protected against other heavy metals and radiation. Researchers also found it protects against lead toxicity and oxidative stress caused by heavy metals. Foods highest in vitamin C include:

  • Colored bell peppers
  • Guavas
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • broccoli

Get plenty of selenium

In this animal study, damage caused by heavy metals significantly improved when fish were given selenium. And this 2019 study in the journal Life Sciences found selenium helped protect the brain from mercury toxicity . Foods highest in selenium include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna (high in mercury though)
  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork

Focus on Gut Health

Hippocrates once said “all disease begins in the gut.” Recent research is revealing more and more just how right Hippocrates was! In this study the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus helped the gut block absorption of lead and cadmium.

This probiotic is found in certain types of yogurt, milk kefir, and other fermented dairy products. You can also get a supplement with L. rhamanosus and empty some of the capsule into baby’s food.

The Bottom Line on Heavy Metals in Baby Food

This problem isn’t going to go away overnight, but thankfully, there are organizations working to make our food safer. And as a result, we’ve already seen a decrease in arsenic in our rice products. There is hope.

And in the meantime, although we can’t avoid any toxin 100%, there are ways to reduce little one’s exposure. Make smart food choices, avoid highly contaminated foods, and focus on nutrients that help the body deal with toxins and heavy metals in baby food.

What About You?

What steps will you take to help your baby avoid heavy metals in baby food?

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a doula and childbirth educator. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 135,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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  39. So for everyone asking about baby food sweet potatoes and carrots vs regular, if you click on the link to the report it has a pdf page that specifically says stay clear from sweet potato baby food and carrot baby food.

    I agree this is absolutely shocking and they should have warning labels on the food as a minimum. I hate corporations.

    • i agree about the corporations. All in the name of making the MIGHTY DOLLAR and of no concern of the harm they are putting our babies thru. How pathetic when you stop and think about it.

  40. What are your thoughts on canned organic pumpkin as an option?

    • I would buy a small pumpkin, cut in half, roast meat down with a little water in baking dish till fork tender, take off skin, puree, freeze in ice cube tray, store in freezer bag. You’ll have plenty of pumpkin ready in small portions! Hope that is helpful. ?

  41. Oh my goodness, this is absolutely abhorrent and utterly shocking. How did this fly under our noses for so dang long. Shame just shame on all of those companies. I have spent hundreds of $ on a lot of those products and produce. Why does feeding our children has to be such a complex dangerous maze?!

    • So true! I find it so difficult to feed my baby in a healthy way! It shouldn’t be so difficult and we should be able trust baby products and regulations therin

    • we as parents should launch a huge boycott til they resolve this issue and stop poisioning our BABIES

    • I am completely gutted to learn about this. My son loved Happy Baby products! Especially the teething wafers!

  42. Does this just apply to store bought baby food? Or is there concern also for homemade carrots, sweet potatoes, etc?

    • Wondering this as well. We don’t buy baby food but eat a lot of sweet potatoes.

  43. Is there a safe oatmeal or similar product you’ve found for babies? I’ve been using Earths Best whole grain bc I thought it was safe but now I don’t know what to think… Also, is the sweet potato/ carrot concern ONLY for baby foods or for all of us? I make these a lot for the family but maybe I should scale back.

    • We just used plain organic oats and blended them up

  44. My kids aren’t babies anymore and we did all homemade and mostly all organic baby foods (with some on the more toxic list ?). What about carrots and sweet potatoes for older kids (5, 7, 10 year olds)??

  45. Wait a minute. How can this possibly be true?

      • But onions, kale, collards, cabbages, and cauliflower are high risk vegetables.


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