A slew of recent studies have found scary amounts of arsenic in baby food, frightening many new parents already stressed out by all-night feedings and endless diaper changes. In a world where environmental dangers seem to lurk in every corner, here is a simple piece of advice.
As the Independent reported, since rice cereal is often a baby’s first solid food but it often has very high levels of arsenic, one advocacy group is suggesting that the easiest switch for parents trying to avoid this potentially hazardous substance is to switch it up and pick cereals made with other grains such as oatmeal, barley and quinoa.
A new report from Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a group of scientists, nonprofit groups and private donors aiming to reduce children’s exposures to chemicals that may harm developing brains, advises that since rice cereal contains more than six times the inorganic arsenic than other cereals, it should be a no-brainer. According to the World Health Organization, arsenic has been linked to developmental defects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, diabetes and even cancer.
“Parents have a lot of easy ways to reduce their babies’ exposure now, because there are so many new cereal options on the market; many are fortified with iron that babies need, and many are just as affordable as rice cereal,” said Jane Houlihan, research director for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, noted the Independent.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed limits for the amount of arsenic allowed in infant baby cereals, but the regulations have not yet been put into effect. In 2016, the FDA proposed a recommendation of no more than 100 parts per billion of arsenic in infant cereal but that is by no means a requirement. The Environmental Protection Agency does limit inorganic arsenic in public drinking water, for the record.
Jennifer Lowry, pediatrician and toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, said the FDA standard on arsenic is “completely ineffective.”
“As the report alludes, it isn’t working as there are too many baby foods that continue to have too high of levels,” Lowry, who is not affiliated with the study, said in an email, as USA Today noted.
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The Healthy Babies Bright Futures organization commissioned Brooks Applied Labs in Bothell, Washington, to test more than 100 samples of infant cereals, including 45 products made by nine different companies. The alliance’s report, which has not been published in a journal and has not been peer-reviewed, found that overall, oatmeal, barley, buckwheat, organic quinoa, wheat and rice-free multigrain baby cereals contained much lower amounts of arsenic than rice cereals. The bottomline is that the study found 85 parts per billion of arsenic in the rice cereals tested on average. One product tested registered at 235 ppb, as USA Today reported.
“We welcome the data provided by Healthy Babies Bright Futures and will review it in its entirety to inform our efforts in reducing inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal products,” the FDA said in a statement as USA Today reported. “The FDA continues to advise consumers to feed infants and toddlers a variety of fortified infant cereals, rather than relying solely on infant rice cereal.”
The Healthy Babies group is calling on the FDA to more strictly regulate arsenic levels in baby food even as it advises parents to take their own precautions.
“When parents ask me the question what is the best brand of baby food to feed my baby, my answer is home-made,” says Dr. Keith Fabisiak, assistant chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente’s Campbell Medical Center. “Even the baby foods that are labeled as ‘organic’ or ‘all natural’ can still contain significant amounts of contaminants like lead and arsenic, so the best baby food is the one that you make yourself…. Although this takes some additional effort, it is easier than most people think and is the only way you know exactly what is in your baby’s food.”
Fabisiak suggests that parents invest in a simple food processor to make the chore easier. He advises you make a batch of baby food and then freeze it overnight in an ice cube tray. The next morning you can pop out the frozen cubes of baby food into a larger freezer container for storage. Each cube will contain about one ounce of homemade baby food, so all you need to do is take a few cubes out of the freezer to thaw for each meal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics counsels that parents reduce the risk of arsenic exposure by also limiting fruit juices, avoiding brown rice syrup in processed foods and avoid using rice milk as a dairy substitute. It should be noted that arsenic is often absorbed into rice from the environment and it can’t be completely removed.