Baby’s First Foods: What You Need to Know

Most babies get their first tastes of foods between the age of 4 to 6 months. This can be really fun and exciting, but there is something important you should know when it comes to choosing your baby’s first foods. Most parents opt for infant rice cereal, but is it a safe choice?

Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal

First of all, what is arsenic? Arsenic naturally occurs in the earth’s soil where most of our foods are grown, so it stands to reason that some will be absorbed into our foods. Rice, however, is more susceptible to absorb higher levels of the element than other foods. This is concerning as arsenic is also a known carcinogen and increases a child’s risk of developing health problems later on down the road. While the FDA does closely monitor these levels, parents should be made aware of which rice varieties contain the highest amounts.

The thing about arsenic is that it is available in two different chemical forms, organic and non-organic. Organic forms come naturally from the environment such as through erosion and mining, among other conditions. Inorganic arsenic comes from non-natural resources as in the use of arsenic-containing pesticides. It is the inorganic form you should be more concerned about as this is the particular form that is linked to longer-term health conditions.

What does this mean for parents?baby-food-products-toddler-selection-supermarket-toronto-canada-49802415
Since rice has higher levels of this element, naturally infant rice cereals will contain some levels of it as well. By the way, organically-grown foods are no safer than the non-organic varieties as a study found that all varieties of rice cereals  (including organic and non-GMO) contained 5 times the amount of arsenic as alternative grain varieties such as oatmeal.

I can honestly tell you as a parent that started all three of my children on rice cereal, reading this scared the heck out of me. So, upon reading this I did further research about the types of rice specifically used in Gerber rice cereals as this is the most commonly used infant cereal brand. I was relieved to discover that since this study came out about the arsenic levels in rice cereals, Gerber has since switched to California-grown rice in all of their rice cereal varieties.

California rice, as indicated in the image below according to Consumer Reports, is known to have to the lowest levels of arsenic found in the U.S.

The primary reason that rice cereal is so commonly offered and suggested as one of baby’s first foods is because it rarely causes allergic reactions and it’s gluten-free. It also provides a great source of iron, which is an essential nutrient your baby needs for development. There is no rule saying you have to start off with rice cereal. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends offering your baby a variety of grains through cereal such as oatmeal or even cream of wheat.

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Most commercially-prepared infant formulas are fortified with iron, but if your baby is in need of extra iron he/she can obtain it through other sources. If your baby shows signs of readiness for solid foods (i.e. sitting up supported, holds head up on their own, interested in foods) then you can go straight to pureed baby food and skip cereal altogether. Just be sure to check with your pediatrician first to discuss any concerns you have with nutrition.

Bear in mind that although I do my research to verify reports on important matters such as this, this post, nor should any on this site, should not be used in place of seeking expert knowledge from a physician. If you have concerns regarding your baby’s health or feedings always consult with your pediatrician.

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