Many babies’ first solid food is rice cereal. It is a childhood staple, commonly recommended by pediatricians. And it is often poisoned—at least a little bit. Studies have found that many brands contain measurable amounts of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic kind. It’s not just rice: an August 2018 study by Consumer Reports tested 50 foods made for babies and toddlers, including organic and nonorganic brands such as Gerber, Earth’s Best, Beech-Nut and other popular labels, and found evidence of at least one dangerous heavy metal in every product. Fifteen of the 50 contained enough contaminants to pose potential health risks to a child eating one serving or less a day.

Heavy metals can impair cognitive development in children, who are especially at risk because of their smaller size and tendency to absorb more of these substances than adults do. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water has been found to lower the IQ scores of children by five to six points. And as heavy metals accumulate in the body over time, they can raise the risk of cancer, reproductive problems, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cognitive issues. Of course, finding out your favorite brand is contaminated is not a reason to panic. Low levels of exposure for short periods are unlikely to cause devastating effects, and parents should focus on reducing the overall levels of these toxic substances in their children’s total diet to limit harm.

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