New report shows toxic lead in baby food

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A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund may encourage new parents to embrace homemade baby food.

The non-profit group studied data collected by the Food and Drug Administration from 2003 – 2013 as part of its Total Diet Study initiative. For over 40 years, the FDA has used the TDS to measure toxic metals, pesticides, and nutrients in our food.

In this recent 11-year study, the federal agency gathered samples from over 2,000 baby food items. Twenty percent of their samples were found to contain lead, a heavy metal that can be particularly detrimental to the growth, development, and health of babies and young children.

The findings showed more instances of lead present in baby apple and grape juices, root vegetables such as sweet potato and carrots, and teething cookies and biscuits.

What’s troubling about these numbers is that not one food item exceeds the US government’s set lead limit. So, while potentially toxic to consumers, these foods still fall under the umbrella of FDA regulated and approved foods. However, it’s prudent to keep in mind that lead exposure is cumulative. When, for instance, children consume the same lead-tainted foods regularly, their exposure rises.

No safe level of lead

What’s more, the EDF states that, “There is no safe level of lead exposure. Lead exposure is likely to impair children’s normal brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.”

So, when it comes to baby food, how is lead finding its way in? The EDF notes that contaminated growing soil and contaminated materials may be partly to blame. If this report leaves you feeling unsettled about your own baby’s eating habits, take heart. There are plenty of meaningful steps you can take to protect your little one’s health and well-being: 

Test

If you have reason to believe your baby may have unsafe exposure to lead, talk to your child’s pediatrician. In most states within the US, health care providers routinely test lead levels at 2 and 3 years old. But that doesn’t mean you can’t request a voluntary test before that. The first round of lead testing is usually done in-office, with a simple and super fast finger prick. Results are ready in about five minutes.

Add the good stuff

Diets rich in calcium and iron may slow the absorption of lead. If your child has shown unsafe levels, his or her pediatrician will recommend reevaluating what your family is eating at home.

DIY

Sure, jarred baby foods are convenient, but it doesn’t take much to whip up your own purees from whole foods at home. Whether you bake sweet potatoes, mash bananas, or steam carrots, just about any delicious vegetable or fruit can be made baby-safe with a good blender.

This latest report from the EDF, based on 11-year findings from the FDA, is certainly troubling. We’re hopeful that the federal agency will work to amend its policies on lead exposure, further protecting one of our most vulnerable populations: babies and young children. Until then, we encourage parents to cook whole, healthful foods and consult with their child’s pediatrician. 

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