I know many of the parents of the children I care for are concerned about the latest news from the Environmental Defense Fund which showed that about 20% of baby food samples tested over a 10 year period had detectable levels of lead.
This non profit group looked at data that the FDA had collected from 2003-2013 which included 2,164 baby food samples. While none of the baby food samples seemed to exceed the FDA’s “allowable” levels of lead, it is still quite concerning. At the same time the FDA is in the process of reviewing their standards to reflect the latest science surrounding the potential risks to young children who are exposed to lead.
While lead testing is routinely performed in young children (1 and 2 yrs), the CDC currently considers a blood lead level greater than 5 micrograms/deciliter as elevated, but no lead level is “safe”.
Lead exposure has been shown to have neurocognitive effects - which means IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement…and the effects cannot be corrected.
The study did not name baby foods by brand. Root vegetables (carrots are one) had the highest rate of lead detection (65% of samples), followed by crackers and cookies (47%) and the then fruits and juices (29%). Only 4% of the cereal samples contained lead.
This report will cause a lot of parental anxiety, but really doesn’t tell us much about what to do? Lead based paint is still the number one source of lead exposure, followed by water, which may also have contributed to lead in food…. but there is still lots of be determined.
In the meantime, the take home message is “feed your babies and toddlers a wide variety of baby foods” and when possible eat fresh foods. One hypothesis is that baby foods are more processed which may contribute to the higher lead content. It is easy to cook and “mush” up your own food to feed your baby and it really does not require a fancy food processor. If you can mush it your baby can eat it!!! The only concern about the introduction of food is basically it has to be soft enough not to be a choking hazard. So no whole nuts, chunks of meat, uncooked hard veggies…you get the idea.
Just because your baby doesn’t seem to like certain foods, don’t get stuck feeding them just a few foods…but continue to offer a variety of healthy foods..some of which they may eat more of than others. Every day will be different.
So…don’t go throw away all of your baby foods but think if you might be able to substitute fresh foods, don’t offer fruit juices to your babies and toddlers and most importantly eat healthy foods. That’s the best thing for you and your child.