While some heavy metals are very beneficial for your child’s development, such as zinc and iron, others can wreak havoc on their brain and nervous system. Naturally occurring in the environment, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury pose a real health threat to your child, as frequent exposure can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Autism has become increasingly prevalent over the last decades, and a surprising contributing factor may be the very food parents had fed their children during infanthood and toddlerhood.
Disturbingly, in the winter of 2021, a congressional report exposed four major baby food companies for allowing tremendous concentrations of heavy metals in products intended for children under 36 months. The manufacturers were found using ingredients exceeding the safe limit of arsenic by 91 times, the maximum limit of lead by 177 times, and the safe limit of cadmium by 69 times. These heavy metals are so dangerous for a growing child because they are neurotoxins, which means that once inside the body, they can wreak havoc on the nervous system.
Can Exposure to Heavy Metals from Baby Food Cause Autism?
Because the primary sources of heavy metals in nature are soil and water, it should be no surprise that ingredients such as wheat, carrots, barley, sweet potatoes, and quinoa contain too much of these neurotoxins. However, it is the baby food companies’ responsibility to make sure the content of heavy metals in their products remains under the safe limit. According to Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who led the investigation on baby food manufacturers, the maximum limits for the four problematic heavy metals should be 10 ppb for arsenic, 5 ppb for cadmium, 5 ppb for lead, and 2 ppb for mercury.
Exposure to heavy metals from ingesting tainted baby food has a cumulative effect on the nervous system of children, as their level increases in their bodies and the neurotoxins remain there forever. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury can easily reach the cerebral matter, where they will settle, gradually leading to neurodevelopmental problems. Many studies have examined the brain tumor samples of patients with neurological disorders and found neurotoxicity and heavy metal poisoning. Even in trace amounts, lead can cause a lot of damage to the child’s nervous system, and, alarmingly, up to 500,000 children between 1 and 5 in the country have blood concentrations of lead above the safe limit.
The accumulation of heavy metals in children’s blood creates free radicals, which generate oxidative stress. Free radicals are very detrimental to health, as they can cause a vast range of serious diseases, while oxidative stress can damage proteins, DNA, and cells. Many children with autism share a chronic flaw in the body’s natural defenses against free radicals. Consequently, there is a strong connection between early-life exposure to heavy metals and autism, among other debilitating neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cognitive damage, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and visual and hearing impairment.
How to Avoid Exposing Your Child to Heavy Metals from Baby Food
The congressional investigation of baby food companies was a 2019 study led by the non-profit organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which found that 95% of the baby food on the market contains at least one heavy metal. Luckily, you can take several easy measures to minimize your child’s intake of heavy metals. Here are four practical tips.
A great thing you can do if you have recently given birth is to breastfeed your newborn for as long as possible, as this will delay their need for commercial baby food. Over 80% of American mothers breastfeed, but less than a third keep doing so for one year, as pediatricians recommend.
In addition to delaying the need for baby food, breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for your child, such as a lower risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome. Furthermore, breastfed babies are also less prone to ear infections and stomach bugs.
2. Replacing Certain Baby Food with Safer Alternatives
To radically minimize the content of heavy metals your child ingests, you should replace these key baby food products with alternatives, such as:
3. Feed Your Toddler Rice Sparingly
Rice is notorious for containing high levels of arsenic, so you should feed this food to your child only occasionally. It is very simple to avoid rice, as you can replace it with other cereals that are just as nourishing, such as oat, rye, wheat, quinoa, barley, sorghum, maize, and soy. Rice crops absorb 10 to 20 more arsenic than other crops, so you can only imagine how great the content of arsenic in rice is.
When preparing rice for your toddler, you should rinse it thoroughly multiple times and cook it in a lot of water. Afterward, drain the extra water to reduce the arsenic concentration. Another tip for rice is cooking sushi rice or basmati rice for your child instead of regular rice, as these types contain considerably less arsenic.
4. Carefully Select the Fish You Include in Your Child’s Diet
Just as rice is known to contain plenty of arsenic, some fish are infamous for containing a high mercury level. The fish you should avoid giving your child when it is time to introduce solid food in their diet is king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, ahi tuna, shark, and bigeye tuna. Instead, choose salmon, canned light tuna, pollock, catfish, trout, and herring.
It is important to keep fish in your child’s diet, as it is a great source of protein and crucial nutrients, such as vitamin D, omega-3, fatty acids, and minerals. Other fish and seafood you can safely give your child are shrimp, cod, scallops, crab, trout, perch, flounder, whitefish, sardines, anchovy, crawfish, oyster, and lobster.
If you are still at a loss about where to find non-toxic baby food for your child, you now have the chance to request safe products manufactured by ethical companies by virtue of the Toxic Baby Replacement Initiative. You have to fill out the form at the bottom of the page, and some will contact you shortly.
About the Author
Jonathan Sharp is the CFO at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a law firm from Birmingham, Alabama, specializing in toxic exposure.