Your Facebook questions answered: Are there concerns about arsenic in infants’ rice cereals?

“I recently heard, a few times, that mothers have been advised to avoid rice cereal for infants as a first choice cereal because of arsenic contamination. Any thoughts? My instinct was “Oh, no. One more thing to limit” asks Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Jennifer Burnham

Jennifer, unfortunately what you have been hearing is correct. The rice-arsenic issue came to light back in 2012 when Consumer Reports testing showed that assorted  rice products, from baby cereal to both brown and white rice, contain troublesome levels of arsenic. Other foods also contain varying amounts of arsenic (partially due to the residual amounts of arsenic in our environment following the use of arsenic containing products such as insecticides) but it appears that rice contains more of this compound than other foods.

For adults, eating a variety of foods can yield a lower intake of arsenic. But for infants, even consuming small amounts on a regular basis, may result in their exceeding the tolerable limits set by various groups including the World Health Organization. Infants, besides having small bodies,  are at a critical stage in their lives when both   neurological and immune systems are developing.

Even low levels of arsenic exposure, at this time of an infant’s life, can lead to adverse effects. Research also shows that low levels of arsenic at this time  may have greater cancer-causing potential than it might for others.

In a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, scientists assessed the amount of arsenic in urine in a group of more than 750 infants, some of whom consumed rice cereal and snacks in the first year of life and those who did not. An estimated 80% of these infants were introduced to rice cereal during this stage. The researchers found that consumption of these products was indeed associated with  arsenic being found  in the urine of these infants.

As a result, it’s time to change the age-old practice of feeding rice cereal as the first solid food to be introduced to infants. This doesn’t mean that infants cannot consume rice products but it does mean that it shouldn’t be a regular or daily item on the menu. It also points to the importance of the concept of eating a variety of foods – something I continue to strongly support.

Eating a wide variety of foods, even prepared in an assortments of ways, offers you a way to minimize the total amount of different nutrients or compounds that you might want to avoid  while at the same time, maximizing the likelihood of  consuming a bounty of key nutrients.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Research Roundup, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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