If there’s one thing new parents worry about, it’s keeping their babies well fed. For the first 6-12 months, breastfeeding takes a lot of the guesswork out of it, but once they move on to solid food, things get tricky. Rice cereal and pureed fruits and veggies are usually the first solid foods that many parents choose to give their babies, but a recent study by the Food and Drug Administration might make you think twice.
Officials from the FDA are urging parents to cut down on the amount of rice cereal that they feed their children. The reason? Arsenic. Now, before you throw away all the rice in your pantry, let’s take a moment to learn a little more about what arsenic is.
Most commonly associated with rat poison, arsenic is a highly toxic chemical element. It is naturally occurring in our environment, but its presence has been on the rise as a result of widespread pollution. As a result, the element has found its way into more and more of our foods and drinks. That’s right – these days, arsenic is found in almost every food and drink we consume, but the levels are generally so low that its negative effects are negligible. Other than rice, the two biggest sources of arsenic are contaminated drinking water and seafood. So, just how dangerous is arsenic? And what is the FDA doing about it?
The FDA is concerned by the high levels of arsenic in rice cereal, so they’re cautioning parents everywhere to limit how much they feed their babies.
In a recent news release, the FDA estimates that babies eat roughly three times as much rice as adults.
As a result, rice cereal is the “leading source of arsenic exposure in infants.”
Arsenic comes in two forms: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is primarily found in the tissue of plants and animals while inorganic arsenic can be found in water, rocks, and soil. The arsenic found in rice is inorganic, which is the more toxic of the two forms.
Just how bad is arsenic exposure? “Inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning,” says the FDA. Believe it or not, this doesn’t mean you should avoid eating rice for the rest of your life. The FDA just wants consumers, and producers, to be smarter when it comes to foods with potentially high levels of arsenic.
To help this matter, the FDA has proposed a new limit on the amount of arsenic in rice that goes into making children’s cereal.
Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, said that these actions “are driven by our duty to protect the public health and our careful analysis of the data and the emerging science. The proposed limit is a prudent and achievable step to reduce exposure to arsenic among infants.”
In addition to these new industry standards, the FDA recommends feeding your child “a well-balanced diet, which includes a variety of grains.”
If you’d like to learn more about arsenic levels in other common foods, check out this handy chart from ConsumerReports. According to them, the average person should not consume more than seven points per week.
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