Is there anything more endearing than the photographs of your baby eating his or her first foods? Their faces squish-up, they are covered from head to toe, their tongues protrude to catch every bite or more often to try to get the revolting taste out of their mouths.
Now, we parents are the ones squishing up our faces and showing huge grimaces of disgust at the latest report that our baby food is contaminated by metals – arsenic, lead, cadmium – none of it monitored or regulated by the FDA.
The non-profit Clean Label Project independently analyzed 500 baby formulas and prepared baby foods (formula, food, pouches, snacks, drinks, cereals) from 60 companies and found the following horrifying information.
- Arsenic was found in 80% of all baby formulas – Organic baby foods had twice the levels found in conventional baby foods, and 65% of all baby products had detectable arsenic levels.
- Lead was found in 36% of products.
- Cadmium was found in 58% of products. Soy formulas had 7 times more than dairy formulas.
- BPA was found in 60% of products claiming to be BPA free.
Looking for Common Threads
When you look at the foods that "failed," you see some definite trends. Many infant food mixes combine applesauce and rice combined with other veggies and fruit. Due to recent publicity, apples and rice are becoming more and more recognized as a source of arsenic in the diet. Much of this arsenic will be organic vs inorganic and a large portion of these metals will pass through children and won't be absorbed. However, a portion of the eaten metals will be absorbed.
In addition, metals can also harm a significant part of our bodies without being absorbed at all. Our GI system contains billions of bacteria, out-numbering our own cells significantly. Metals and chemicals that affect plants can damage our own internal "gardens" changing our own gut chemistry and changing our nutrition, GI health, and brain health, putting us at risk of autoimmune conditions as well as many other chronic health issues.
Problems Caused by Toxic Metal Exposure
So why are metals so bad? Metal exposure in young children is known to decrease IQ by several points. Although this adjustment seems small, over a population this contributes to a significant drop in the IQ of the population.
Metals may accumulate in the kidneys increasing the risk of hypertension as we age. Cadmium has a 30-year half-life, so childhood exposure persists easily into adulthood. Since cadmium is a metalloestrogen, a metal that acts like estrogen, higher levels in young children, especially girls, at the time of puberty would be expected to influence the development of breast tissue and likely, if like other xenoestrogens, would increase breast cancer risk in the future. High cadmium levels during puberty might even influence the timing of puberty, and higher levels during the reproductive years may influence testicular development in boys and future testosterone production and sperm quality and quantity, and in girls influence egg quality and influence uterine and ovarian conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, and infertility.
How Metals Get into Baby Food
One of the most disturbing facts about this reveal is that these products are being sold and not tested routinely for quality and truth in labeling.
Some of these metals are becoming increasingly present in our agricultural foods through natural occurrence or through use of pesticides and herbicides either directly being sprayed on foods or through contamination of ground water. Many of the other chemicals found the foods like BPA and its cousins (the rest of the alphabet) may be added through the processing and packing of the foods – putting hot foods into plastic containers or BPA lined tins. BPA can also interact with estrogen receptors with known implications in breast, ovarian and testicular health.
One of the most disturbing facts about this reveal is that these products are being sold and not tested routinely for quality and truth in labeling. There is little regulation and mandatory testing of foods for metals. As we become more and more aware of the science of metals, we become even more aware that there are no real safe levels of metals that have an impact on our neurological, gut microbiome, reproductive and immunological systems.
So What is a Mom to Do?
Sigh. This is the fundamental question right? We can choose organic, but in some cases they were worse than conventional products. The best answer is to make your own baby food. This doesn’t eliminate all the metal contaminations as some of these exist even in whole foods that adults are also eating, but it does mean that you control the source of these foods, where you buy them, and their processing.
A couple of things that I found helpful when I made baby food:
- A small blender works great and I would steam or bake my foods and freeze them in cubes in silicone ice cube trays then transfer them to freezer bags. Meals became as easy as just taking out a couple of different flavored foods and heating them up.
- As my little girl got bigger, she had blended dinner of the same foods that I was eating. This lead to meals of meat, veggies, grains with spices.
- For pouches, there are some great silicone refillable make your own versions that we still like. They work well for applesauce blends as well as for other yogurts and smoothies for food on the go.
- For babies that need formula, I wish I had a great answer. Definitely choose the companies that "passed" the testing and ask any company if they test their product for these metals and BPA. Choose products that have BPA free liner and ideally don't choose pre-mixed formulas which have found to have the highest levels of BPA.
Children are not just little adults. Their detoxification system is different, and their vulnerabilities are different as well. Because they are growing and developing, exposure to metals and toxins are expected to have different damaging effects depending on their growing anatomy and physiology. As our environment becomes more toxic and our control of food quality becomes more limited due to globalization and international food processing, it is becoming even more important that every person starts demanding from companies independent testing for toxins in our food. Our health and our children’s depends on it.