Image by Julian Schöll

ARSENIC & FOOD

Babies and young children may be at risk of exposure to arsenic due to their limited diets and small bodies. Soft foods such as rice and rice-based products, applesauce, foods mixed with pureed apples and pears are usually some of the first foods introduced to children.

 

Unfortunately, many of these foods and the products made with these ingredients can be a source of arsenic. In many areas of the US, rice fields and apple/pear orchards were previously treated with arsenic containing pesticides and/or fertilizers contaminated with arsenic. While most arsenic containing pesticides are now banned, the soil on which rice and fruit trees is grown still contains arsenic in some parts of the US. There are ways to reduce the risk of arsenic exposure from food sources that are healthful for infants and children as well as members of the family of any age. 

Arsenic & Farming

Arsenic is a toxic substance found in the environment. It can enter food through a number of different ways. In the past, farmers used arsenic as a pesticide when spraying their crops. Traces of arsenic from these farming practices can still contaminate soil today. Naturally occurring arsenic from bedrock can also contaminate soil. High levels of arsenic have been found in rice fields and apple orchards.  

Arsenic was also used in antibiotics that were used to feed chickens and other livestock. The manure that is used as fertilizer in fields, mixes with the soil and can contaminate food crops.

The good news is that a lot of these farming practices are no longer used! Pesticides that contain arsenic are now mostly banned and the antibiotics that were used to feed chickens are also no longer used. However, remnants of these past practices means arsenic can still be present in farmland today, so it is best to vary your intake of certain foods that contain arsenic to limit your exposure.
 

Arsenic in Rice

Rice is a healthy component of a balanced diet. However, certain rices tend to have more arsenic than others. Brown rice, for example, has more arsenic than white rice, but has more nutritional benefits. There are nutritional benefits to all sorts of grains and it is recommended that you vary your diet to limit arsenic intake. Rice is used in popular children's snacks such as cereal, baby puffs, certain formulas, and pureed baby foods.Children and adults who eat a lot of rice or rice products as part of their diet, may be at risk for long-term health problems related to arsenic.

Recommendations

New recommendations for infant and child diets stress introducing and providing a wide variety of foods. In this way over exposure to any specific harmful exposure in food is reduced and consumption of a lot of different foods helps to ensure that children’s growing bodies get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals and other components in food that them healthy.

While old recommendations for infant feeding promoted introducing foods in a particular order, with rice cereal being the first food to be introduced, this is no longer the case. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Centers for Disease Control encourage parents to begin introducing a variety of foods to children’s diets at around 6 months of age. Foods to introduce include a variety of fruits and vegetables, meats and other protein sources such as yogurt, cheese and eggs and a variety of fortified cereal, including those made with barley, oats and multi-grains.
 
​The concept of eating a wide variety of foods beyond infancy and childhood and into the teenaged years, adulthood and during pregnancy is recommended by almost all public and professional health organizations in the US. Rice can still be part of healthy diet, but it’s important to include other grains in the diet to reduce the risk of arsenic exposure.