03 Nov Is There Mercury in Your Baby’s Food?
Are you feeding your baby rice cereal? If so, you might want to tune in to the possible health risks and exposure warnings for your baby. Infant rice cereal is typically used to help your baby transition to solid foods. It is normally mixed with 4 teaspoons of breast milk or formula and then fed to babies in an upright position to help them adjust to feeding on more solid foods.1 Then, as babies adjust to eating, the rice cereal can be thickened up by using less liquid.1 It is fairly well-known that rice based infant cereals can contain high amounts of arsenic, and because of this they should be avoided.1 It is recommended to feed your baby other single-grain cereals, including oatmeal and barley, as an alternative.1
In addition to the possible risk of arsenic, new research is suggesting that rice-based infant cereal may also contain high amounts of methylmercury. Rice grown in highly polluted areas has been found to have high amounts of methylmercury.2 Methylmercury is a common concern for pregnant women and is most well-known when regarding fish consumption. Certain fish are known to have a high concentration of methylmercury including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.3 Canned, chunk light tuna generally has a lower amount of mercury than other tuna, but it should still only be eaten in moderation.3 Elevated amounts of methylmercury have been linked to developmental delays and brain damage in infants.2,3 In adults, it can cause neurological and reproductive delays.2
A new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry evaluated the levels of methylmercury in a variety of rice based infant cereals. Researchers tested a variety of rice-based cereals from the United States and China and found the rice cereals from the two continents had similar mercury levels.2 The mean concentration of the samples that were tested was 2.28 micrograms of methylmercury per kilogram of product.2 Based on the mean concentration found by the researchers, it is estimated that infants who consume rice cereal products could ingest between 0.004 to 0.123 micrograms of methylmercury per kilogram of body weight daily.2 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a 0.1 microgram/kg/day reference daily dose for methylmercury.2 This reference daily dose is based on factors that may not be applicable to infant rice cereal, and the effects of this amount of mercury are not yet fully known. More research is needed to determine if rice based cereal could potentially harm your baby. In the meantime, stick to other grain cereals just to be safe!
As you begin to start your baby on solid food, it is important to still consider taking a post-pregnancy prenatal vitamin for nutritional support for you. If you are planning on becoming pregnant again soon, it is especially important to maintain adequate plasma levels of essential vitamins, like folate, to aid in proper neural tube closure shortly after conception.
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References: 1. Mayo Clinic Staff. Healthy Lifestyle: Infant and toddler health. Solid foods: How to get your baby started. Website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in- depth/healthy-baby/art-20046200?pg=1. Published April 14, 2017. Reviewed October 30, 2017. 2. American Chemical Society. “Some infant rice cereals contain elevated levels of methylmercury.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 October 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171025090458.htm. 3. American Pregnancy Association. Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy. Website. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/. Updated July 20, 2017. Reviewed October 30, 2017. 4. Wenbin Cui, Guangliang Liu, Meara Bezerra, Danielle A. Lagos, Yanbin Li, Yong Cai. Occurrence of Methylmercury in Rice-Based Infant Cereals and Estimation of Daily Dietary Intake of Methylmercury for Infants. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b03236.