New research finds baby food — yes, baby food — is laced with lead

As you may have gathered from yesterday’s discussion, toxic metal exposure is something that I generally test all of my patients for. Because the reality is, we’re all bombarded with toxic metals on a daily basis. They’re everywhere — including our food and water supply.

Even nutritional supplements can contain trace amounts, as many are made with ingredients sourced from China (which is notorious for its lead problem). That’s why it’s important to know where your supplements come from. If only all laws were as rigorous as California’s, where warning labels are required.

Simply put, toxic metals should be on everyone’s radar. But parents are always urged to be particularly vigilant, since young children and their developing brains are especially susceptible to this environmental threat.

Up until now, the conversation has focused primarily on contaminated water and paint chips — two prime sources of childhood lead exposure. But due to recent findings, that focus has expanded to include a new and very disturbing target: baby food.

Yes, you read that right. Baby food.

The Environmental Defense Fund sounded the alarm after analyzing more than a decade’s worth of federal data, including more than 2,000 baby food samples. Their research uncovered detectable lead levels in 20 percent of the baby foods they assessed. With a particularly high incidence in fruit juice (like grape and apple), root vegetables (like sweet potatoes and carrots), and teething biscuits.

These are all dietary staples for infants and toddlers in this country. (Though whether or not they all should be is a different story.) So suffice it to say, the threat of widespread lead contamination is incredibly concerning.

In fact, it sets up a downright dire situation, given just how detrimental lead can be to child development. Exposure to lead carries the potential to impact everything from attention, behavior, and cognitive development, to a child’s cardiovascular and immune systems.

To be clear here, there is NO safe blood lead level in children. (I don’t think there’s a safe level in adults either, but that’s a discussion for another day.) But the FDA set a maximum intake level of 6 micrograms daily back in 1993.

Alarmingly, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than five percent of U.S. children take in more lead than this every day, through diet alone. And according to this new report, the main perpetrator is food — not paint chips or contaminated water.

The FDA cites contaminated soil as the main culprit that lands lead on dinner plates. But given the heavy processing involved in baby food manufacturing, I would suspect that, yet again, industry practices are at least partially to blame.

Especially since the FDA hasn’t exactly laid the hammer down on this issue. Gotta love this: They’ve set “guidance levels” — in other words, the maximum amount of lead they will allow — of 100 parts per billion for candy and dried fruit. And 50 ppb for fruit juices. (This is in contrast to five ppb for bottled water.)

I can’t fathom why they would allow any lead in these products at all, so that’s question number one. Second question: Why is fruit juice permitted to contain ten times more lead than water?

Another reason never to touch the stuff — it’s quite literally poison. This report didn’t pinpoint the brands that posed the biggest threat, but it doesn’t really matter, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve discussed this recently: Fruit juice is nothing but sugar (and lead, apparently), and you should avoid it at all costs. (Honestly, you can say the same about most fruit — which seemed like the only thing people could talk about at my last A-List Diet book signing. But I digress…)

I’m not saying that kids are somehow safe from lead paint and contaminated water now. No one’s saying that. But it’s vital to understand that there are a lot of other ways you and your child can be exposed to toxic metals… the food industry being a main culprit.

This report from the Environmental Defense Fund is targeted toward spreading awareness of this fact — and more importantly, getting the FDA on the same page so that current limits and standards receive some very necessary updates.

I applaud their efforts. But unfortunately, I suspect we’ll all be holding our breath for a very long time.