Infant rice cereal and arsenic

Feeding baby homemade foodRice cereal is often a staple of an infant’s diet. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that relative to their weight, people consume the most rice at 8 months of age. The FDA recently proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion for the amount of arsenic that can be present in infant rice cereal.

How does arsenic get into rice?

Arsenic is a metal. Small amounts of arsenic are normally found in water, soil, and air. Arsenic gets into rice because as the rice grows, it absorbs the arsenic from the environment. While arsenic is found in other crops, rice tends to absorb arsenic more easily because of how it is grown.

What problems can exposure to arsenic cause?

According to the FDA, exposure to arsenic “may result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning.” If a pregnant woman is exposed to high levels of arsenic, it can cause problems like miscarriage and birth defects.

How can you limit your baby’s exposure to arsenic?

The FDA tested 76 samples of infant rice cereals on the market and found that nearly half of them — 47 percent — already meet the proposed limit. Moreover, most of the samples tested — 78 percent — were either at or below 110 parts per billion.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), here are some ways that you can reduce your baby’s exposure to arsenic:

  • Breastfeed. It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. Once you start to offer solid foods, breast milk is still the best food for your baby during the first year of life.
  • Feed your baby different types of iron-fortified cereals. While some rice cereal is OK, you can offer other options as well, including oat, barely, and multigrain. Rice cereal does not need to be the first cereal you offer your baby. Just make sure to watch for allergic reactions whenever you introduce a new food.
  • Limit fruit juices. The AAP has recommended limiting intake of all sweet drinks, including juice.
  • Avoid brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup is often used as a sweetener in processed foods.
  • Drink cow’s milk and do not substitute with rice milk. Dairy-sensitive children can be given other sources of calcium. Talk to your baby’s provider about the best choice.

What if I’m pregnant?

Pregnant woman should eat a varied diet with an assortment of grains, such as wheat, oats, and barely, as well.  Some studies also suggest that cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice), and draining the excess water, can reduce from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice — although this method may also remove some key nutrients.

Both the AAP and FDA encourage people of all ages to eat a varied and well-balanced diet. Rice and infant rice cereal can be a part of that diet, but they should not be the main source of nutrients.

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