In February of last year, a congressional report exposed four popular baby food companies for allowing tremendous heavy metal concentrations in their products. The manufacturers exceeded the safe arsenic limit by 91 times, the maximum cadmium limit by 69 times, and the safe lead limit by 177 times. What prompted the investigation, led by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, was the 2019 study “What’s in My Baby Food?”. The study conducted by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found that 95% of baby food contains at least one heavy metal.
Exposure to high concentrations of heavy metals by ingestion over a long time can lead to autism. Once inside the body, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury act as neurotoxins. Neurotoxins are substances that wreak havoc on the brain and nervous system, and babies are more vulnerable to their negative impact. Since they have a greater uptake of nutrients by the gastrointestinal tract, children are more likely to suffer from neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
It is essential to mention that no baby food company intentionally adds heavy metals to their products. Contamination with arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury occurs because the crops absorb these heavy metals from the soil and water. Nevertheless, it is solely the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the baby food on the market is safe to consume. This means the content of heavy metals is under the safe limit.
Before listing some of the most disturbing investigation findings, it is essential to know the safe limits for heavy metals. Accordingly, the maximum limit for arsenic in baby food should be 10 ppb, for cadmium, 5 ppb, lead, 5 ppb, and mercury, 2 ppb. With these limits in mind, let us take a look at the most shocking findings of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy:
- Beech-Nut used ingredients containing over 340 ppb cadmium
- Hain Celestial Group would allow baby food with 352 ppb lead to go on the market
- Beech-Nut used ingredients to make baby food that had 913 ppb arsenic
- Nurture would sell products containing 10 ppb mercury
Initially, seven baby food companies had been asked to participate in the investigation. Beech-Nut, Hain Celestial Group, Nurture, and Gerber agreed to share their internal documents and practices. On the other hand, Campbell, Sprout Organic Foods, and Walmart refused to collaborate with the researchers.
What Is the Link Between Exposure to Heavy Metals and Autism?
Infants and toddlers are significantly more susceptible to the negative health effects of exposure to heavy metals from baby food because they are growing and developing. Furthermore, heavy metals will remain in their bodies longer because they have underdeveloped detoxification systems. In addition to causing autism, exposure to heavy metals by ingestion can also result in cognitive damage, lower IQ, behavioral abnormalities, ADHD, and learning disabilities.
Because heavy metals are neurotoxins, they can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the cerebral matter, where they will settle, leading to autism in children with more risk factors. The accumulation of heavy metals generates free radicals, which trigger the production of oxidative stress. Free radicals can cause many serious diseases, and oxidative stress can damage cells, DNA, and proteins. Many children with autism share a chronic flaw in the natural defenses of the body against free radicals.
4 Practical Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Intake of Heavy Metals on Baby Food.
Fortunately, there are many practical measures you can take to minimize the content of heavy metals in your child’s diet. The following are only four ways you can do so.
Breastfeed Your Newborn for as Long as You Can
Although over 80% of American mothers breastfeed their babies, fewer than one-third continue to do so for one year or longer, as pediatricians recommend. Breastfeeding will delay your child’s need for baby food or reduce the amount you have to feed them. Breastfeeding yields numerous benefits for your baby, including a lower risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, lung infections, stomach bugs, and ear infections.
Replace Commercial Baby Food with Natural or Safer Alternatives
This advice comes from the non-profit organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ study. It is beneficial and easy to put into practice, as you only have to replace:
- fruit juice with plain water to lower the heavy metal content by 68%
- teething biscuits with a cold banana to lower the heavy metal content by 91%
- rice puff snacks with snacks without rice to reduce the heavy metal content by 93%
- sweet potatoes with a variety of products to reduce the heavy metal content by 73%
Beware of the Fish You Give Your Child Once They Can Have Solid Foods
Fish has a bad reputation for containing mercury. Nonetheless, not all fish have alarming mercury concentrations, so you have plenty of options, such as anchovies, salmon, catfish, flounder, mullet, plaice, haddock, and pollock. Instead, it would be best to stay away from swordfish, fresh tuna, marlin, northern pike, king mackerel, and tilefish.
Feed Your Baby Rice Sparingly
Just like fish is known for containing mercury, rice is notorious for having a high content of arsenic. It can absorb 20 times more arsenic than other crops because of its structure and the conditions under which it grows. Still, you can feed your child rice if you do it just occasionally, and make sure to cook it in a lot of water that you drain off at the end. You can also use basmati or sushi rice, as these contain less arsenic than regular rice.
There is the Toxic Baby Food Replacement Initiative for parents who are still uncertain about what to feed their infants or toddlers. By virtue of this campaign, they can request free, safe, non-toxic baby food made by ethical companies. If you want to receive products, you need to fill out the form at the bottom of the page, and someone will contact you shortly.
One in 44 children born after 2010 will develop autism, and the incidence of the disorder has increased by nearly 1% since 2007. The unbelievable content of heavy metals in most baby food on the market is likely a significant contributor to the rising prevalence of autism. Consequently, parents should educate themselves, stay up to date with the news concerning this issue, and make wise, informed decisions about what they feed their vulnerable children.
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Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. – a law firm in Birmingham, Alabama, whose primary practice area is toxic exposure. The attorneys assist people whose health was affected by exposure to hazardous agents, including PFAS, occupationally or in the military.