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The Eating Journey, Nutrition

Don’t be weighed down by concerns over heavy metals

As parents, we all want to do what's best for our babies, infants, and children. So, it can be more than a little concerning with the news that our family's youngest members could be at risk from the very thing meant to nurture us all – food.

How do we be sure that what we are putting in baby's mouth isn't doing more harm than good?  

One thing we do know is that heavy metals found within the food supply chain is nothing new. Not only are heavy metals naturally occurring within the earth's crust, but they can also be found in water, soil, and even the air we breathe! And unfortunately, it is our youngest population, due to their exponential growth during their formative years, particularly their developing brains, which are most vulnerable to adverse effects of contamination. The good news is that there are some considerations and simple steps that parents can take to minimize these exposures.  

Mix it up. 

While we might not be able to eliminate exposure, certain foods carry a higher risk than others. By ensuring a varied and healthy diet, including a wide variety of vegetables, not only are we optimizing health, but it helps to ensure we don’t ‘put all our eggs in one basket’. Certain vegetables, including sweet potato and carrots, both popular first foods, carry a slightly higher risk of heavy metal contamination. However, they are only a problem when these are the only food baby eats. A healthy and varied diet will help ensure they receive all the nutrients they need while minimizing the risk of exposure. 

Avoid products containing rice. 

Rice products, including infant rice cereal, rice-based teething rusks and snacks, and dishes including rice, are at the top of this list for heavy metal contamination. Organic, inorganic, brown, or white rice kinds can all pose a risk to high exposure levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Some areas in the world have done well to minimize the uptake; however, unless you know exactly where it comes from or proof of product testing, it is safest to avoid. 

Avoid fruit juice. 

Fruit juice is never a good idea, especially for infants under 12 months. Fruit juice, especially those made from concentrated bases, are also culprits for heavy metal contamination. Another gentle reminder that fruit juice doesn’t really have a place in babies’ diets. 

Homemade or commercial?

An interesting topic as there are so many different determinants going into either that can potentially enhance or reduce contamination risk. For example, reputable commercial operators select and test all ingredients that go into a product and test the final product before release. Not everyone tests everything, and yes, certain packaging and processing can increase the contamination levels. But remember, as long as you are not relying on a single product from a single source, e.g., just sweet potato, then chances are you are doing well. 

Organic or inorganic? 

As mentioned earlier, heavy metals exist naturally in our environment. However, we also know that chemical pollution from herbicides and pesticides can significantly increase environmental contamination. So, to a certain extent, choosing organic can reduce exposure. However, even though a product has been grown organically, heavy metals can remain in the soil long after applying pollutants, not to mention air pollution from motor vehicles and factories. So, unfortunately, the organic carrot in your fridge may well have a level of contamination. But remember, variety is your friend! 

Water

We know that water is such an essential part of a healthy diet and that infants, once they start solids, should be introduced and encouraged to choose water over sweetened beverages. 

Old plastic toys and lead-based paint

Although lead-based paint has been all but phased out, some older style homes may still be a risk, and baby chewing on an old plastic toy can present a risk of exposure to lead and cadmium.  Consider an at home lead test kit to evaluate the risk and clear out any old toys. 

The take-home message from all of this is, ‘don’t fret.’ Heavy metal contamination exists in the environment we live in. We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have to reduce the risks. Perhaps one of the best things to do, like the song says, is, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Babies are little sponges, and we know that by creating a pleasant and supportive environment, free from our pressures and stress, we provide them with the foundations for healthy eating habits to thrive. 

 

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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