Fort Worth, Texas,
13:18 PM

Is there poison in your child’s baby cereal?

The Doc Smitty takes a look at the link between arsenic and rice

Arsenic has long been a “character” as a poison in murder stories but did you know it's also present in foods that we eat and that we feed our babies?

Rice is one of the foods most commonly associated with arsenic. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement expressing their goal to take “steps to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants.” One of those steps is to reduce the allowable amount of arsenic in rice cereal. (Before you ask, brown and organic versions also have arsenic.)

A new study in JAMA Pediatrics released online yesterday shows that intake of rice cereal and rice-based snacks increased the levels of arsenic in the children’s urine. In high levels, it has been shown to cause problems with almost every body system, including poor growth, immune system function and development. It is unclear what health problems smaller increases may cause.

Should you be concerned?

I would not run out to have your child’s arsenic levels checked. Children have been eating rice cereal for ages with no obvious health effects.

We should definitely be aware of the ongoing research about arsenic and the FDA should continue to work with companies to limit the amount of arsenic in rice cereal.

Should you give your baby rice cereal?

There will be different opinions on this debate, but you’ve read this far for my opinion so here goes: I say ... no.

I actually moved on from recommending rice cereal (or cereal at all for that matter) for my patients for over a year now.

There are several reasons why we used to recommend rice cereal as an early first food but each one has fallen by the wayside as a real concern:

  1. Iron - Rice cereal is a good source of iron and exclusively breast fed babies were thought to need more iron. But, the reality is, the iron that is in breast milk is absorbed well and there are plenty of other options to get iron.
  2. Allergies - We used to think that feeding other foods early could be a cause of food allergies. Turns out, the exact opposite is true. Delaying other foods doesn’t prevent (and might actually be a cause of) food allergies.
  3. Safety - Rice cereal can be mixed up into a bunch of different textures for your baby, but so can fruits and vegetables. If you are worried about your child’s safety and what he or she is eating or don’t want to deal with purees or other baby foods, it’s also perfectly OK to wait for solids until 6 months when a baby can handle more “whole” foods.

I recognize that many doctors might give other advice but I tell my patients to skip cereal (for lots of reasons, arsenic being a small one).

Either start with fruits and vegetable puree/baby food at 4 months or wait until 6 months to let babies feed themselves soft items (this is called baby-led weaning). Some great first foods for either puree or baby led weaning are avocados and bananas.

The main thing about early feeding is to have fun! Don’t let worry about arsenic poison your ability to enjoy this exciting developmental milestone.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page. He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.


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