Aug. 12, 2022 -- Homemade baby food contains as many toxic metals as food bought in the store, according to a new report released Thursday.
About 94% of homemade and store brands were contaminated with one or more toxic heavy metals. The heavy metal levels varied widely by food type, not by who made the food.
“We found no evidence to suggest that homemade baby foods made from store-bought produce are better than store-bought baby foods when it comes to heavy metal contamination,” Jane Houlihan, the paper’s co-author and research director for Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, told CNN.
The group, which is an alliance of nonprofits, scientists and donors, has a mission of reducing babies’ exposures to neurotoxic chemicals.
“Toxic metal exposure can be harmful to the developing brain. It’s been linked with problems with learning, cognition, and behavior,” according to consumer-focused information from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But keep in mind that many genetic, social, and environment factors influence healthy brain development, and toxic metal exposure is just one of these factors.”
Houlihan and colleagues tested 288 foods bought at stores and farmers markets across the U.S., including grains, fruits, vegetables, snacks, teething foods and family items that babies eat, such as cereals and rice cakes. They tested for four major heavy metals — lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium — that are among the WHO’s top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children. They also looked at data from 7,000 food tests reported in published studies and by the FDA.
The researchers found that 94% of foods contained detectable amounts of one or more toxic heavy metals. Lead was found in 90% of manufactured baby food and 80% of store-bought family food and homemade purees.
In addition, arsenic was found in 68% of store-bought baby food and 72% of family food either purchased or prepared at home. Cadmium was found in 65% of purchased baby food and 60% of family foods. Mercury was found in 7% of store-bought baby food and 10% of family foods.
The new report is a follow-up to a November 2019 report by Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, which tested 168 foods purchased from major baby food manufacturers. The analysis found 95% of store-bought baby food contained lead, 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium and 32% contained mercury. About one-fourth of the foods had all four heavy metals.
“After that report, we saw so many people saying you can get around this problem by making your own baby food at home, so we decided to check,” Houlihan told CNN. “We suspected we’d find heavy metals in all kinds of food because they’re ubiquitous contaminants in the environment.”
Healthy Babies, Bright Futures created a new parent’s guide of popular baby foods to serve, limit and avoid based on the tests.
Four popular rice-based foods — crisped rice cereal, brown rice, rice puffs and rice cakes — were so heavily contaminated by heavy metals that the researchers recommended avoiding them altogether. In contrast, 14 foods — such as bananas, apples, beans, peas, milk and cheese — have little contamination and can be served freely.
In the middle, 22 foods — including peanut butter, fruit juice, oatmeal and teething biscuits — have moderate to relatively high amounts of heavy metals. These should be eaten rarely or in rotation with other foods, the researchers said. For some of the foods, the preparation matters, and peeling and cooking the foods can lower the heavy metal content.
The key is to feed children with as many different types of food as possible, Mark Corkins, MD, a pediatrician and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition, told CNN.
“If you spread foods out, and offer a wide variety of options, you’ll have less toxicity,” he said. “And nutritionally, that’s always been the right thing to do to get the most micronutrients from the food you eat.”