Baby's introduction to food may include some arsenic, too

Posted May 3

Rice cereal is often the first "solid" food a baby receives at age 4 to 6 months. But a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that arsenic levels in the popular baby cereal may suggest caution.

According to NPR, "Multiple studies have found that rice-based foods contain traces of arsenic, and sometimes levels are surprisingly high."

"The highest arsenic concentrations were among those who consumed infant rice cereal," Dartmouth epidemiologist and researcher Margaret Karagas told NPR. "Among those (babies) who ate rice snacks, levels were about double (that of) non-rice eaters."

In an email to Reuters Health, Karagas wrote that, "Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can influence risk of cardiovascular, immune and other diseases. There's a growing body of evidence that even relatively low levels of exposure may have adverse health impacts on young children including on growth, immunity and neurodevelopment."

As Reuters explained, "The researchers studied 759 infants born to mothers age 18 to 45. Parents reported their infant's intake of rice products like rice cakes or puffs or dried breakfast cereals containing rice, or brands of cereal bars sweetened with brown rice syrup, in interviews when the baby was 4, 8 and 12 months of age. The researchers also collected infant urine samples to test for arsenic levels."

CNN reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken action to limit the accepted levels of arsenic in some foods and beverages, including water to apple juice. "In April, the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal," according to the article, which said the agency is still accepting public comments on the proposal.

CNN's Sandee LaMotte asked a pediatrician and author for suggestions on what parents can do to limit the levels of arsenic their babies ingest. Tanya Altmann, who wrote "What to Feed Your Baby: A Pediatrician's Guide to the 11 Essential Foods to Guarantee Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kids," suggests that parents eschew white rice cereal "as there is little nutritional benefit and it simply primes young palates for a lifetime of eating white carbs, not to mention the arsenic issue, which this study confirms."

Instead, Altmann told LaMotte that parents should provide "real, single-ingredient foods as much as possible for both meals and snacks." Her proffered list of suggestions includes "berries, steamed or cooked veggies, peanut puffs, Greek yogurt, string cheese, a thin layer of nut butter on whole-grain bread, hard-boiled or scrambled egg, whole-grain O-shaped cereal and pieces of lean chicken (or whatever is left over from lunch or dinner)," the article said.

Those recommendations are in line with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said to introduce babies to solid food around 6 months, offering a "wide variety of healthy foods" and a "variety of textures." It said "a new eater only needs 1-2 tablespoons of each food and will gradually increase to 3-4 tablespoons as she gets older. By getting your baby used to lots of different foods, you’ll help him build a healthy diet for life."

The national pediatric group recommends oats, barley, quinoa and wheat, as well as a variety of other foods.

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