Study finds toxic metals in baby foods: What you should know

DETROIT – We do everything we can to make sure our kids are safe. That's why this new study is pretty scary for most parents.

The investigation and tests were done by Healthy Babies Bright Futures. This is an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors that's trying to reduce exposure to neurotoxic chemicals during the first months of life.

Tests of 168 baby foods from major manufacturers in the U.S. found 95% contained lead, 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium and 32% contained mercury. One-fourth of the foods contained all four heavy metals.

One in 5 foods tested had over 10 times the 1 part per billion limit of lead. Health advocates agree that no level of lead is safe for anyone, especially children. 

This can be especially scary considering this can cause damage to a baby's brain development. Our Local 4 Expert Dr. Frank McGeorge, says: "The issue with heavy metals and children in particular is that; because babies are so small, smaller amounts of heavy metals will have a disproportionate effect on them. Plus, their nervous systems are still being developed, and heavy metal effects are primarily on the nervous system."

Foods with the highest risk for neurotoxic harm were rice-based products, sweet potatoes and fruit juices, the analysis found.

HIGH RISK: Rice-based foods topped the list of the most toxic foods for babies. Rice-based snacks, rice dishes and rice cereals tested high for levels of arsenic. A lot of the rice products were contaminated with all four toxic metals. 

It's important to note that sometimes these elements can be found naturally. McGeorge notes: "Depending on how the food is processed and grown, heavy metals can make it into the supply. The issue is how the heavy metal exists. Sometimes it's bound, sometimes it's unbound and they have different effects in the body." 

For example, the Food and Drug Administration says arsenic is a natural element found in soil, water and air, especially when it's in an inorganic form. If the rice is grown in water, the rice absorbs arsenic. But research has shown even low levels of arsenic can impact the neurodevelopment of a child. 

In the Healthy Babies analysis, four of seven rice cereals contained the most toxic form of arsenic in levels higher than the FDA's proposed action level of 100 (ppb).

ALTERNATIVE: Safer alternatives include anything rice-free. For cereals, choose multigrain or oatmeal. For teething, try a wet washcloth, a frozen banana or a chilled cucumber. 

HIGH RISK: Another product that tested high for heavy metals was fruit juice. Apple, pear, grape and other fruit juices can contain some lead and arsenic. 

ALTERNATIVES: Experts say parents should be using water and milk mostly. If you must use juice, make sure it's 100% juice. Also, cut it in half with water, which will also make the juice last longer! 

HIGH RISK: Sweet potatoes and carrots are great sources of vitamin A and other key nutrients, but the report found they are also high in lead and cadmium. It's fine to feed your child these vegetables, but be sure to add other fruits and veggies, especially those of other colors from the rainbow of healthy foods. 

We know this study is overwhelming, but there is a shortened summary of it with a helpful chart of high-risk foods and safer alternatives. 

While parents can do a lot in this situation, advocates are calling on the FDA to do more. The FDA has been investigating how to reduce exposure to metals in foods and juices. There's been a lot of progress that's been made, but advocates say that, with this study in mind, more can be done.