Fort Worth, Texas,
13:14 PM

Toxic Metal In Your Baby's Food. How Concerned Should Parents Be?

Doc Smitty looks at 'What's In My Baby's Food?' Report

"95% of baby foods contain heavy metals"

"Heavy metals in baby foods leading to lower IQs"

You might have seen these headlines in the past few weeks as a result of the report, "What's in my baby's food?" from the Healthy Babies, Bright Futures initiative.

The report looked at a variety of foods for four different heavy metals: arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Each of these heavy metals can be linked to developmental delays and loss of IQ points over time.

But, the tricky part is that these metals are present in many different substances, foods, even the dirt that your child eats on the playground. So, it's not just the fact that the metals are there but how much and how often they are ingested that matter.

And despite what you read in the headlines, it's not possible to avoid these exposures by switching to organic or by changing to baby-led weaning or homemade purees. Because these heavy metals are present in our soil, they are taken up by plants as they grow. Even the report goes on to say, "Organic standards do not address these contaminants, and foods beyond the baby food aisle are equally affected." So, moving away from jarred baby food doesn't eliminate the risk of your baby having exposure.

While we'd love to eliminate any risk and should continue to do so, is there a real risk to your baby?

The report spends significant time discussing lead exposure and it's a risk to babies. Interestingly, many pediatric offices (including mine) run a screening lead level at age 1 and 2 but we do not see a significant number of children who test at a detectable level and even fewer who fall above the level of 5 at which a child is considered at risk for problems. We do not routinely screen for the levels of the other chemicals but, likely, those would not be present in a significant number of babies either.

The headlines and articles have spent significant time discussing the 11 million IQ points that have been lost due to exposure of heavy metals, but what does that mean to YOUR baby. Probably not much. First of all, those lost IQ points are based on the known IQ loss from excessive exposure and many other assumptions to calculate the total loss. And, while it's not clear from the reports, the assumption is those IQ points were a cumulative loss over all children from 0-24 months which when averaged out over all those children work out to a fraction of a point per child which would mean nothing to an individual baby.

So, what should we do?

Of course, the baby food and agricultural industry should continue to work to provide a sustainable source of healthy nutrition for all of us (including our babies). Subtle changes, like searching for soils that have less heavy metal exposure for root vegetables (like carrots and sweet potatoes which absorb more heavy metals from the soil) might be beneficial. The food processing industry should continue to make as many gains as possible in decreasing the steps that might lead to an increase in heavy metals in our foods.

Here are some tips for parents that you can make to minimize your child's exposure:

  1. Remember that switching to organic or providing homemade purees will not reduce risk. So, if you wouldn't otherwise, there's no need to make that change now.
  2. Avoid higher risk foods, especially those that contain no other nutritional benefits. Rice cereal, teething biscuits, puff snacks (rice-based) and apple juice are some of the riskiest foods and have little to no benefit.
  3. Provide a variety of foods regularly. Sweet potatoes and carrots can be an important part of your baby's diet but should be given in with a mix of a variety of other foods.

Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.

Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club  and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at

He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.


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