Most pre­pared baby and tod­dler foods con­tain heavy met­als

The Saline Courier Weekend - - OPINION - D . GLAZIER

Dear Doc­tor:

Is it true there’s lead and heavy met­als in some brands of baby and tod­dler foods? My hus­band and I both work, and it’s hard to com­pletely avoid us­ing pre­pared foods.

Dear Reader: As work­ing par­ents our­selves, we un­der­stand the chal­lenge you’re fac­ing. Once ba­bies make the tran­si­tion to solid food, it’s of­ten a strug­gle to thread the nee­dle be­tween the ease and con­ve­nience of pre­pared foods and the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing ex­actly what’s in that spoon­ful of homemade food headed for your baby’s mouth.

The de­bate about pre­pared ver­sus homemade in­fant and tod­dler foods isn’t new, and it has led to the emer­gence of an ever-grow­ing se­lec­tion of bou­tique and or­ganic op­tions. But re­cent tests con­ducted by con­sumer ad­vo­cacy groups and a lead­ing con­sumer magazine have pro­duced data that is giv­ing some par­ents pause. Last sum­mer, Con­sumer Re­ports re­vealed that its anal­y­sis of 50 pack­aged baby and tod­dler foods found a mea­sur­able amount of lead, in­or­ganic ar­senic or cad­mium in each sam­ple that was tested. Foods made with rice or sweet pota­toes had a strong like­li­hood of test­ing pos­i­tive for high lev­els of these heavy met­als, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Among the sur­prises in the data was the fact that or­ganic foods tested pos­i­tive as of­ten as the con­ven­tional prod­ucts.

This re­port built upon data re­leased two years ago by the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund, a con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group. That study, which ex­am­ined data col­lected by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion over the course of a decade, found that mea­sur­able amounts of lead were present in one-fifth of all na­tion­ally dis­trib­uted in­fant and tod­dler foods.

Sur­pris­ingly, child-tar­geted prod­ucts of­ten con­tained higher lev­els of lead than adult prod­ucts, with grape juice and mixed fruit juices the most likely to con­tain de­tectible lev­els. Al­though the ex­act rea­sons for the pres­ence of these heavy met­als is not yet known, con­tam­i­nated soil, as well as man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses in a glob­al­ized food chain, are lead­ing suspects.

Mean­while, some man­u­fac­tur­ers have taken is­sue with both the data and the con­clu­sions of these re­ports. They point out that the amounts of lead found in the FDA data all fall within the agency’s guidelines. The Con­sumer Re­ports data has been faulted for fail­ing to spec­ify the ex­act amounts of heavy met­als that have been de­tected.

The good news is that these re­ports, which have put a spot­light on the is­sue, are help­ing to cat­alyze rel­e­vant pol­icy changes at the FDA. We think this is im­por­tant be­cause the con­tam­i­nants un­der dis­cus­sion can re­sult in se­ri­ous harm to a child’s health and de­vel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly to the de­vel­op­ing brain and ner­vous sys­tem.

Our ad­vice, and this has as much to do with gen­eral health as it does with po­ten­tial con­tam­i­nants, is to min­i­mize the use of pro­cessed and pack­aged baby and tod­dler foods as much as pos­si­ble. Fruit juices and rice ce­re­als, which are high­lighted in the re­ports, re­ally aren’t ideal foods for young chil­dren. In­stead, try to fo­cus on a di­verse diet of whole, un­pro­cessed foods. With time and plan­ning (and a good food pro­ces­sor), you’ll give your child a solid nu­tri­tional foun­da­tion and earn your­self some peace of mind.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an in­ternist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. Eliz­a­beth Ko, M.D., is an in­ternist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health.

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