If you are like many parents, including me, the first solid food you introduced to your baby was rice cereal. Now, a new report from the FDA, and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, may have parents calling this common practice into question, because too much rice cereal may expose infants to unsafe levels of inorganic arsenic.
According to a press release, there are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Inorganic is more toxic and is actually a known carcinogen. And the thing is, rice absorbs this chemical very readily. As Today.com points out, relative to their small size, infants will typically consume about three times more rice than an average adult, especially if they are solely eating rice cereal as their solid food intake.
Okay, yes, it's scary—but this isn't exactly new information. However, a recent test by the FDA revealed high levels of inorganic arsenic during pregnancy are linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes and poorer cognitive performance in kids. So based on that, the organization has proposed a new limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb), specifically for infant rice cereal. The AAP has already encouraged baby food manufacturers to act now to meet the new action level.
It's important to note the FDA analysis revealed some infant cereal makers already meet the guidelines, but some do not. Gerber, for one, says its cereals are safe. The company told NBC News:
"We have worked closely with our trusted rice supplier and their growers as well as researchers from agricultural universities to achieve some of the lowest levels of this element in U.S. grown rice. Through these combined actions we already meet the level proposed by the FDA."
And parents, these new guidelines don't mean you have to cut out rice cereal from babies' diets completely; in fact rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for an infant. Instead, the AAP suggests varying an infant's solid food sources with oats, barley, and multigrains.
As AAP president Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP says, "To reduce the amount of arsenic exposure, it is important all children eat a varied diet, including a variety of infant cereals." He adds, "The AAP encourages parents to speak with their pediatrician about their children's nutrition. Pediatricians can work with parents to ensure they make good choices and informed decisions about their child's diet."
The bottom line is that parents should be feeding babies a varied diet once they start solids. As Dr. Dreyer puts it, "Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients, but it shouldn't be the only source, and does not need to be the first source."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.