Are Baby Foods Tainted With Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals?

Review easy ways to reduce your child’s risk from heavy metals in baby food.

Why do some parents think that baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of toxic metals?

A staff report from the US House of Representatives showed that "commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury."

It’s likely because they recently read articles and posts about a staff report from the US House of Representatives which showed that “commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.”

A report that was prompted by a study last year, What’s in my baby’s food?, that found 95% of baby food tested contained lead, arsenic, mercury or cadmium.

Are Baby Foods Tainted With Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals?

Wait, what?

Commercial baby foods really are “tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury?”

Yes, it seems that they are.

As compared to the maximum allowable levels in bottled water that are set by the FDA, the latest report found that baby foods and their ingredients tested at up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.

How has this happened?

“FDA HAS FAILED TO CONFRONT THE RISKS OF TOXIC HEAVY METALS IN BABY FOOD. THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IGNORED A SECRET INDUSTRY PRESENTATION ABOUT HIGHER AMOUNTS OF TOXIC HEAVY METALS IN FINISHED BABY FOODS.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

We have been hearing about arsenic in rice and baby food for nearly 10 15 years, so it is hard to make this a Trump problem…

“In the context of arsenic in baby food, there are only two FDA regulations for specific products—an unenforceable draft guidance issued in July 2013, but never finalized, recommending an action level of 10 ppb for inorganic arsenic in single-strength (ready to drink) apple juice, and an August 2020 final guidance, setting an action level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals at 100 ppb.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

How about we just look at it as a problem that needs to be fixed?

Do you want the FDA to add more regulations for baby foods, ensuring that they are all safe and free of heavy metals?

To understand why that wouldn’t be a quick fix, you have to understand how these baby foods likely became tainted with heavy metals. After all, it’s not like the baby food manufacturers are adding them as an ingredient…

The problem is that the rice, vegetables, and fruits that they use to make baby food are actually tainted with arsenic and other heavy metals!

“Step one to restoring that trust is for manufacturers to voluntarily and immediately reduce the levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby foods to as close to zero as possible. If that is impossible for foods containing certain ingredients, then those ingredients should not be included in baby foods.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

Yes, let’s hope that the companies stop making baby food that is contaminated with heavy metals and if they don’t, let’s set high FDA standards for baby food to make sure that they do.

Either way, we are going to need a food supply that isn’t tainted with heavy metals…

“On August 1, 2019, FDA received a secret slide presentation from Hain, the maker of Earth’s Best Organic baby food, which revealed that finished baby food products contain even higher levels of toxic heavy metals than estimates based on individual ingredient test results. One heavy metal in particular, inorganic arsenic, was repeatedly found to be present at 28-93% higher levels than estimated.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

And no, simply switching to organic foods isn’t the answer.

What Parents Should Know About Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

So what should parents do?

One obvious thing is to keep pressure on politicians and the companies that make baby food to fix this problem.

But that’s a long term fix…

Right now, you should understand that while baby foods do likely contain these heavy metals, it is not at toxic levels that will cause immediate harm.

And understand that many of the studies on exposure to heavy metals and risks for children were not necessarily specific to baby foods, but were often on general environmental exposure.

Children are exposed to heavy metals from many sources, including parents who smoke, lead in paint and water, and mercury in seafood, etc.
Children are exposed to heavy metals from many sources, including parents who smoke, lead in paint and water, and mercury in seafood, etc.

Still, you should work to decrease your child’s risk of exposure to heavy metals from food by:

  • avoiding apple juice, as like rice, apples can take up arsenic in the soil they are grown in, although keep in mind that infants shouldn’t be given any juice anyway
  • feeding your kids a variety of rices and grains, including oatmeal, barley, multi-grain rice, basmati rice, millet, and quinoa, etc. – remembering that iron-fortified cereals are a good source of iron, so typically shouldn’t be avoided all together
  • looking for rice-free baby snacks and limiting how many rice crackers and rice cakes your older kids eat
  • avoiding teething biscuits, as they are typically made with rice flour
  • offering your baby a variety of vegetables, understanding that carrots and sweet potatoes are often the ones that are most heavily contaminated with heavy metals, so continue to give since they are also high in nutrients, but mix in with a lot of other veggies
  • offering a variety of plant based milks if your older child has a milk allergy (giving breastmilk or an iron fortified infant formula until 12 months), so that they aren’t just drinking rice milk

What else can we do?

“Chemicals are part of our daily life. All living and inanimate matter is made up of chemicals and virtually every manufactured product involves the use of chemicals. Many chemicals can, when properly used, significantly contribute to the improvement of our quality of life, health and well-being. But other chemicals are highly hazardous and can negatively affect our health and environment when improperly managed.”

Action is Needed On Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern

We can focus on real risks, instead of the never ending parade of things that we might be told to worry about, from pesticide residues and sunscreen ingredients to vaccines and GMOs.

Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed and scared of made up risks, focus on things that really might affect your kids, like this news about heavy metals in baby foods.

But even then, understand that the risk isn’t so high that you have to throw out of the jars of baby food you just bought and start making your own. Just give your child a good variety of foods, so that they don’t get too many of the same foods that might contain heavy metals.

And no, you don’t have get your kids tested for heavy metals if your main concern is exposure to heavy metals in baby food…

More on Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

What Are the Best Foods for Kids?

How do you choose healthy foods and snacks for kids?

What are the best foods for kids?

No, they aren’t brain foods, super foods, or clean foods…

Best Foods for Kids

Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.
Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.

In general,  the best foods are healthy foods packed with the nutrients that your kids need, including foods that are high in fiber, low in fat, and good sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron, etc.

And they are foods that make it easy to avoid things your kids don’t need, like trans fats and too much extra salt, added sugar and calories.

That’s why many of the best foods include things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat milk. Eat enough of them and you won’t have to worry about giving your kids vitamins.

High Fiber Foods

Do your kids get enough fiber in their diet?

According to the latest recommendations, based on their age, the average child needs:

  • 1-3 years old – 19g fiber/day
  • 4-8 years old – 25g fiber/day
  • 9-13 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 31g fiber/day
  • 14-18 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 38g fiber/day

Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!
Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!

Is 19 or 21g of fiber a lot? What about 38g?

When you consider that a high fiber food has 5g per serving and one that is a good source of fiber only has 2.5g per serving, then it might be hard for some kids to reach recommended levels each day.

To help make sure that they do, look for:

  • high fiber foods – beans, broccoli, peas, lentils, pears, prunes, raspberries, shredded wheat cereal, spinach, whole wheat pasta, snack bars
  • foods that are good sources of fiber – air popped popcorn, nuts, apples (with the skin on), bananas, brown rice, carrots, celery, corn, figs, oatmeal, raisins, strawberries, whole wheat bread

And compare food labels, looking for foods with high amounts of fiber.

Iron-Rich Foods

Since many kid-friendly foods have plenty of iron, getting kids to eat iron-rich foods isn’t as big an issue as some parents imagine.

It can be a problem if your exclusively breastfed infant isn’t eating much baby food, your toddler or preschooler drinks too much milk and doesn’t eat much food, or when a kid on a specialized diet doesn’t eat meat or other iron-rich food (vegans and vegetarians).

Fortunately, there are plenty of iron-rich foods, even if your kids don’t eat red meat, including:

  • most types of beans
  • iron fortified bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, including those made with whole grains
  • collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
  • broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, parsley, watercress, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables
  • raisins, prunes, dates, apricots and some other dried fruits
  • tofu
  • egg yolks
  • blackstrap molassses
  • nuts

Seafood and poultry are also good sources of iron.

And while the iron in non-meat sources isn’t as easily absorbed by our bodies as the iron from meat, fish, and poultry, you can boost that absorption by pairing those iron rich foods with some vitamin C, such as drinking orange juice or eating citrus fruits.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Many kids don’t drink enough milk. That’s not necessarily a problem, as some kids actually drink too much milk, but it can be if they don’t make up for it with other foods to get calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!
Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!

How much calcium do kids need?

  • 700 mg a day for kids who are 1 to 3 years old
  • 1,000 mg a day for kids who are 4 to 8 years old
  • 1,300 mg a day for kids who are 9 to 18 years old

And when you consider that 1/2 cup of broccoli only has 21mg of calcium, you are probably going to want to turn to milk, cheese and yogurt and calcium fortified orange juice, cereal and bread to make sure your kids are getting enough calcium.

Other foods that are good sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, and salmon.

Foods with Vitamin D

Like calcium, good sources of vitamin D can include milk, cheese, and yogurt, but only because many of these foods are fortified. That’s why ice cream, even though it is made with milk, isn’t usually a good source of vitamin D! Neither is raw milk.

Some non-dairy foods that do contain vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel (just don’t overdo it on the fish because of the risks from mercury)
  • beef liver and egg yolks
  • some mushrooms

And of course, many foods are fortified with vitamin D, including breakfast cereal and orange juice.

Are your kids getting at least 600 IU/d of vitamin D?

Protein-Rich Foods

Believe it or not, your child likely gets enough protein in their diet.

Kids should eat a variety of protein rich foods though, including lean meats, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.

“Strategies to increase the variety of protein foods include incorporating seafood as the protein foods choice in meals twice per week in place of meat, poultry, or eggs, and using legumes or nuts and seeds in mixed dishes instead of some meat or poultry. For example, choosing a salmon steak, a tuna sandwich, bean chili, or almonds on a main-dish salad could all increase protein variety.”

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

For most kids, it is the variety of protein that’s the problem, not the overall amounts, as most of their protein likely comes from red meat and dairy products.

What to Know About the Best Foods for Kids

Are you worried that your kids are too picky? Are they overweight, with portion sizes that are too big?

Learn to make healthy food choices and help avoid kid-friendly junk foods, but still make sure your growing kids are getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need.

A registered dietician can be especially helpful in planning a healthy eating plan for your kids if you are still having trouble.

More on the Best Foods for Kids

That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots

For most parents, avoiding the serious risk of vitamin K deficiency bleeding easily justifies their decision to get their baby a vitamin K shot, despite the presence of a black box warning.

Vitamin K is not a vaccine, but some parents who plan on skipping or delaying their baby’s vaccines, also choose to skip this shot.

Vitamin K Shots

Given soon after a baby is born, a vitamin K shot is the most effective way to prevent both early onset and late onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

“The vitamin K injection is also a supposed safeguard in case your car is involved in a car wreck on the way home from the hospital or birthing center with newborn in tow.”

The Healthy Home Economist on why you should Skip that Newborn Vitamin K Shot

Although vitamin K deficiency bleeding has never been very common, it is often fatal, and it has been known for almost 125 years that it is caused by a temporary lack of vitamin K in newborns and younger infants.

Can’t you just give babies oral vitamin K to prevent this bleeding?

While oral vitamin K can prevent early onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding, which might start from birth to when a baby is about two weeks old, it won’t prevent late onset bleeding, even if you give the recommend three doses on schedule over two months (as they do in some countries). Babies with late onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding might not have symptoms until after they are two weeks old, or as late as 5 or 6 months old, and it can only be prevented with a vitamin K shot.

Can’t you just avoid dropping your baby or getting into a car wreck if you skip the vitamin K shot?

While you will hopefully do that anyway, the truth is that we don’t know why some infants with vitamin K deficiency bleeding develop bleeding in their brains, as it usually isn’t any kind of big trauma.

In 2013, seven babies over a period of eight months had early and late vitamin K deficiency bleeding at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Three of them required surgery to remove clots “out of their head” and may “have issues with seizure disorders and will have long-term neurological symptoms related to seizures and developmental delays.”

I don’t think any of them were dropped or were involved in car accidents on the way home from the hospital or birthing center.

All had refused to get their baby a vitamin K shot.

Why Do Parents Refuse Vitamin K???

So why do some parents choose to skip their baby’s vitamin K shot?

There are no toxic ingredients in your baby's vitamin K shot.
There are no toxic ingredients in your baby’s vitamin K shot.

Some parents simply think their baby doesn’t need it, especially if they have an uncomplicated, “gentle birth” at home. Of course that has nothing to do with whether or not your baby develops vitamin K deficiency bleeding days or weeks later. It also doesn’t matter whether or not you plan on getting your baby boy circumcised, although your pediatrician probably won’t do the circumcision if you skip the shot.

Other parents are worried about a possible link to leukemia and childhood cancer, an improbable link that was refuted way back in the 1990s.

And still others are worried about the mercury content of vitamin K shots. Or they are worried about other supposed “toxins” in the shot, that it is a synthetic version of vitamin K, or that the dose is too high.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the small amount of benzyl alcohol contained in Vitamin K1 Injection (Phytonadione Injectable Emulsion, USP), when used as recommended, is associated with toxicity.”

Vitamin K Package Insert

Why are they worried about these things?

Mostly because someone on the Internet told them to be worried about them, even though vitamin K shots are safe, are free of mercury and any other toxins you might really need to be concerned about, and the dose of synthetic vitamin K your baby gets in the shot will not cause an overdose.

Or they might be worried that their baby might get up to 100mcg/L of aluminum with each shot. Of course, since they are only getting 0.5ml with the shot, that only equals about 0.05mcg of aluminum! Although it is an extremely tiny amount, why is it even in there? It is not working as an adjuvant as some would propose (again, vitamin K is not a vaccine), but rather is likely just a byproduct of the manufacturing process. And you can be assured that your baby can quickly, and safely eliminate the small amount from their body.

“…several countries have reported a resurgence of late VKDB coincident with policies promoting the use of orally administered prophylaxis, even with multiple-dose regimens.”

AAP on Controversies Concerning Vitamin K and the Newborn

The shot (which works) is certainly safer than going to a compounding pharmacy for oral vitamin K (which won’t work to prevent all cases of late-onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding).

That’s right – oral vitamin K for babies isn’t even available in the United States.

That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots

And then there is the black box warning in the package insert for vitamin K.

The package insert for vitamin K does include a black box warning, although these severe reactions are extremely rare in newborns who get a vitamin K shot to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding.
The package insert for vitamin K does include a black box warning, although these severe reactions are extremely rare in newborns who get a vitamin K shot to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

Why is it there?

It was found that people could have severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) if they got a large dose of vitamin K too rapidly through an IV. This type of dose would usually be given to patients with significant bleeding who were being treated with anticoagulants (anticoagulant reversal).

“Based on a review of the literature, use of parenteral vitamin K1 may result in severe hypotension, bradycardia or tachycardia, dyspnea, bronchospasm, cardiac arrest, and death. These reactions are most consistent with a nonimmune-mediated anaphylactoid mechanism. It appears that intravenous administration is more frequently associated with these reactions and occurs at an incidence of 3 per 10 000 doses of intravenous vitamin K1.”

Jamie N Brown on Characterizing the Severe Reactions of Parenteral Vitamin K1

This is not what happens when babies get their vitamin K shot though, although there is one non-fatal case report of anaphylaxis after a baby in Turkey got a vitamin K shot in 2014.

There are nearly 4 million births in the United States each year.

Almost all of them get a vitamin K shot very soon after they are born.

And yet there are no reports of anaphylaxis in the United States.

There are isolated case reports of anaphylaxis in newborns to other things, including antibiotics, hepatitis B immunoglobulin, total parenteral nutrition (TPN), and atracurium (used in anesthesia) – but not to vitamin K shots.

“Therefore the INTRAVENOUS and INTRAMUSCULAR routes should be restricted to those situations where the subcutaneous route is not feasible and the serious risk involved is considered justified.”

Vitamin K Black Box Warning

That’s why most parents don’t skip getting their baby a vitamin K shot. Or they come to regret the decision if they do.

“What it comes down to is that giving your child a shot of Vitamin K at birth is a small price to pay, especially when the cost of rejecting the shot can be severe brain injury and death. I can’t change what happened to Olive, but I can try to prevent it from happening to another baby.”

Olive’s Story

For most parents, avoiding the serious risk of vitamin K deficiency bleeding justifies their baby getting a vitamin K shot.

And that’s why vitamin K deficiency bleeding is so rare these days – at least among those babies whose parents didn’t choose to skip their vitamin K shot.

What To Know About That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots

For most parents, avoiding the serious risk of vitamin K deficiency bleeding easily justifies their decision to get their baby a vitamin K shot, despite the presence of a black box warning.

More About That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots

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