Metal in Baby Food: Research Reveals Risk of Heavy Metals - Dr. Axe

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Metal in Baby Food: Research Reveals Risk of Ingesting Heavy Metals


Metal in baby food - Dr. Axe

Of all food categories, it may be safe to say that ensuring the purity of baby foods and making sure there are no toxic ingredients or heavy metals in baby food should be one that’s a major priority. However, a national investigation in 2019 showed that toxic metals were found in 95 percent of tested baby foods, and an updated study published in 2023 found that, “while the amounts of lead, arsenic, and cadmium in baby foods appear to be getting lower, the overall risk hasn’t changed much in the past five years, according to new tests by Consumer Reports.”

The fact that heavy metals in baby food exist was uncovered a decade ago, but we assumed measures were taken to resolve this major health issue. It’s true that efforts made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with baby food companies and nonprofit organizations, have been working to reduce metal in baby food products.

Although we’ve seen some progress since 2011, we clearly have a long way to go before baby food can be declared completely safe.

What do these studies tell us about the risk of toxic baby food exposure and how it may effect your child’s health? Many parents and public health advocates are demanding answers.

Studies: Heavy Metal in Baby Food

When 168 baby foods made by 61 different brands were tested by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), toxic heavy metals were found in 95 percent of them.


How many baby foods were contaminated with heavy metals? Researchers found that:

  • 94 percent contained lead
  • 75 percent contained cadmium
  • 73 percent contained arsenic
  • 32 percent contained mercury

The report also shows that one in four baby foods contained all four toxic heavy metals. Of the 168 samples:

  • 26 percent contained four metals
  • 40 percent contained three metals
  • 21 percent contained two metals
  • 8 percent contained one metal
  • 5 percent (only nine samples) contained zero metals

Why were these four metals tested? They all have a unique significance — they are developmental neurotoxins.

These metals can harm a child’s developing brain and nervous system, and metal in baby food may even cause permanent loss of intellectual capacity. Plus, consuming these toxic metals can also cause behavioral problems, like ADHD.

According to this study, the lead and arsenic in rice-based foods alone account for one-fifth of the more than 11 million IQ points that children lose from birth to 24 months old from all dietary sources.

When new containers of 25 foods were sent to a separate lab for heavy metal testing, scientists detected another neurotoxic pollutant in 19 of 25 foods: perchlorate.

Perchlorate disrupts thyroid functions that are crucial to brain development and has also been linked to IQ loss.

As a follow-up of sorts, Consumer Reports (CR) “retested seven baby foods that had concerning levels five years ago” and 14 products overall “representing a mix of fruits and vegetables; meals and entrees; and snacks, such as bars, puffs, and teething wafers.”

The researchers for CR determined that baby food products made with rice, sweet potatoes and carrots pose the biggest risk for heavy metal contamination.

Most Dangerous Baby Foods to Avoid

The HBBF test results show that 15 foods account for more than half of the heavy metal in baby food risk. Here’s a breakdown of the most dangerous baby foods, according to this most recent report:

  1. Rice-based foods, including infant rice cereal, rice dishes and rice-based snacks
  2. Apple juice
  3. Grape juice
  4. Fruit juice blend (100 percent juice)
  5. Cheerios and oat ring cereal
  6. Macaroni and cheese
  7. Puff snacks and teething biscuits
  8. Soft cereal bars
  9. Oatmeal cookies
  10. Fruit yogurt
  11. Sweet potato baby food

The study authors also point out that choosing organic baby food products doesn’t necessarily mean that it will contain lower levels of toxic metals.

According to HBBF and past studies on metal in baby food, organic standards do not address these contaminants. Heavy metals are naturally occurring in both soil and water, and pesticides, fertilizers, airborne contaminants and industrial operations only elevate these levels.

Of the 61 baby food brands that were tested, some of them were organic brands, including Plum Organics, Beech Nut and Earth’s Best.

This means that organic baby food and even homemade baby food aren’t safe from these heavy metals, unless you use the safest baby foods that are recommended by HBBF and other organizations.

In addition, the CR report found that while some levels of heavy metals went down, other levels of metal in baby food actually went up between the 2019 report and its 2023 report. As the study authors explained it:


For example, in Gerber Chicken Rice Dinner, arsenic levels dropped by 22 percent, and the levels were so low that we didn’t test for inorganic arsenic—the most harmful type. But we detected lead this time, where we hadn’t in our 2018 tests. That may be because the technology for detection of heavy metals has become more sensitive, but the lead we detected in our new tests was enough to change our daily limit from less than one serving per day to less than half a serving per day. (Because we can now measure lower levels of lead than we could in 2018, we can’t say whether the levels of lead in this product increased or decreased.)

Similarly, for Happy Baby Organics Superfood Puffs, Purple Carrot & Blueberry, cadmium levels declined by 34 percent, and inorganic arsenic levels dropped by 45 percent. But those arsenic levels are still comparably high, and lead levels increased by 60 percent. Our daily limit for these changed only slightly, from less than a serving per day in 2018 to less than 1.5 servings a day.

What Parents Can Do (How to Avoid Toxic Metals)

According to the HBBF report, “only a dramatically accelerated pace at FDA and the fruition of the new Baby Food Council’s pursuit of industry-wide change will be enough to finally solve the problem.”

This is an issue that’s been known for almost a decade, and although measures have been taken to limit heavy metal exposure in foods, clearly there’s much more work to be done.

In the meantime, HBBF has made recommendations about what parents can do to make safer baby food choices. These safer choices are said to contain 80 percent less arsenic, lead and other toxic heavy metals than other “riskier picks.”

Here are the five action steps you can take to lower your child’s exposure to heavy metals:

  1. Choose rice-free snacks: Opt for diced fruits and veggies or rice-free crackers.
  2. Avoid teething biscuits made with rice: Instead of rice biscuits for teething babies, opt for other soothing foods, like chilled cucumber and frozen banana. You can also use a clean, wet washcloth or cold spoon.
  3. Opt for multigrain infant cereals, oatmeal, barley and quinoa.
  4. Offer filtered tap water instead of fruit juice.
  5. Offer a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Consumer Reports offers some more suggestions, including:

  1. Vary the types of foods your child eats in general.
  2. Serve a rotation of many different vegetables and whole grains.
  3. Instead of using packaged foods with rice, make your own rice cooked in a large amount of water (similar to how you cook pasta), which “can reduce the arsenic content by 40 to 60 percent,” according to the FDA.
  4. Limit intake of apple and grape juice.
  5. Minimize baby snack foods, particularly highly processed ones.

Healthy Nutrition Options

Nutrition for babies is extremely important because this is a time of major development. If there’s one major takeaway from these studies on heavy metal in baby foods, it’s that rice-based foods should be avoided.

Instead of choosing rice-based snacks, offer your child snacks that are rich in nutrients and low in metals. Dicing, mashing or soft-cooking nutrient-dense foods is a healthier option.

It can also be done if you’re using the baby-led weaning method. Try these recommended safe baby foods:

  • avocado
  • pumpkin
  • green beans
  • beets
  • zucchini
  • parsnips
  • peas
  • apples
  • bananas
  • berries
  • grapes (cut length-wise)
  • peaches
  • beans
  • hard-boiled eggs

Adding meat and high-protein foods to your child’s diet is also important. Some of the best options include:

  • turkey
  • chicken
  • beef
  • fish (no shellfish)
  • lentils
  • beans
  • diluted peanut butter

According to CR, some of the best low-metal options to feed babies include:

  • infant cereals made from oats and other whole grains (except rice)
  • fresh and frozen fruit
  • peas, green beans and butternut squash
  • baby food meats
  • eggs
  • beans
  • unsweetened applesauce
  • cheese
  • yogurt


  • A 2019 study conducted by Healthy Babies Bright Futures tested 168 baby food products from 61 different brands for heavy metal contaminants. Researchers found that 95 percent of the products contained arsenic, lead, cadmium or mercury.
  • Twenty-six percent of the foods tested contained all four of the heavy metals and only 5 percent contained zero metals.
  • A 2023 updated study by Consumer Reports found that some levels of metal in baby food have decreased, but others have increased — resulting in the risk staying relatively the same.
  • These studies suggest that more needs to be done by the FDA and baby food companies to limit a child’s exposure to toxic metals that can lead to lower IQ and other developmental issues, along with mercury poisoning and other metal poisoning.
  • In addition, parents should be careful to limit or avoid feeding children the foods more likely to contain heavy metals and opt for healthier, safer foods.

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