If you are the least bit interested in a toxin free lifestyle, you are at the very least trying to eat clean. Then, maybe, you are also doing your best to use detergents that do not contaminate your body or your home. This should be the ideal approach to living a cleaner life, and this is the kind of lifestyle we would like our newborns to start living from the very beginning.
But what if I were to tell you how difficult this actually is? What if I were to tell you that even if you are paying extra to purchase organic products you may still be ingesting pesticides on a daily basis?
The Clean Label Project (TM) is something I discovered as a daycare owner, where one of my main responsibilities was ensuring the children in my care received the best service possible, and that also meant what they were being fed.
This Project, "uses data and science to reveal the true contents of America’s best-selling consumer products. Products are tested in an accredited analytical chemistry laboratory for 130 harmful environmental and industrial contaminants and toxins." The findings are then published on a star rated system per product.
We read the labels of course, but what we neglect to acknowledge is that, "Product labels list ingredients that a product is known to contain. What they don’t include are contaminants and additives that ingredients may come in contact with as they enter the food supply chain. These can include heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic and mercury) and ‘legacy’ chemicals that, in the case of food, leach into the soil and water in which ingredients are grown as a result of agriculture methods, industry and mining activities."
Other organizations, like Cornucopia and the Environmental Working Group, have also carried out studies with similar results.
This article will attempt to list some findings, and also consider some everyday ingredients you may be using that can be harming your baby.
It is important to note that some brand name products mentioned in this article scored well, and results are not brand-wide but rather specific to brand products.
Bonus: Infographic included at the end for moms who want a clear map of the 2107 Baby Food Study Results.
15 An Infinite Number Of Infant Formulas
If a mother is not able to breastfeed, or if she feels she needs some extra help to nourish her baby, infant formulas are certainly a big help. We use them trusting the food safety industry has fulfilled its responsibilities in protecting its most fragile consumers, but has it really?
It is alarming to learn that out of 86 infant formulas tested by The Clean Label Project, 80% of them tested positive for arsenic. In addition, some certified organic baby food products had more than twice the amount of arsenic found in the conventional baby foods tested.
Although arsenic was the most common chemical found, cadmium, often used in batteries and as a plastic stabilizer, was also detected.
The research also discovered that soy-based infant formulas had about seven times more cadmium than other types of baby formula.
Some of the most popular brands included in the findings, Gerber, Enfamil, Mom-to-Mom, Parent's Choice and Similac, scored a 1 or 2 out of 5 ratings, with the highest level of contaminants.
14 Numerous Baby Cereals
The research also discovered 30 baby cereal products found to contain high levels of heavy metals.
Moms everywhere are now asking how safe it is to feed their babies cereals? Based on these findings, it appears that of all the baby foods considered in this study have:
- 65% contain arsenic
- 36% contain lead
- 58% contain cadmium
- 10% acrylamides
Arsenic, is naturally present in water, soil, and air, but levels in the environment can be influenced negatively by mining, manufacturing, and pesticides.
Also, of the 2 forms of arsenic generally found, organic and inorganic arsenic, experts are more concerned when a food contains higher levels of inorganic arsenic, considered to be a potent carcinogen, and known to hinder the development of motor and cognitive development.
Rice can contain higher amounts of inorganic arsenic because rice plants tend to absorb more arsenic than other types of plants. Using iron-fortified cereals made from other grains, like oats, barley, and wheat, may limit your baby's exposure to some of the metals listed above.
Some of the worse performing baby cereals found to contain contaminants by the Clean Label Project include some products by Gerber, Earth's Best Organic, Parent's Choice, Organix, Nestle, Healthy Times, and Beechnut.
13 More Food Jars Than You Think
Who doesn't love a quick meal sometimes? As much as we want to prepare and bring with us homemade purees for our little ones, once they start eating solids, it is sometimes not convenient to do so. How simple is it to bring a ready made meal for baby to the mall, or on a trip? We don't have to feel guilty about it, we only have to choose wisely.
The research in question, also included 105 baby food jars, with findings no mom wants to hear. As with the other results, food jars were found to contain contaminants, including certain pesticides.
An older study done by EWG.org, tested eight foods (applesauce, garden vegetables or pea and carrot blend, green beans, peaches, pears, plums, squash and sweet potatoes) "made by the three major baby food producers that account for 96 percent of all baby food sales -- Gerber, Heinz, and Beech-Nut...They were tested for pesticides using the FDA's standard pesticide analytical methods."
They found the following, sixteen pesticides were detected in the 8 baby foods tested:
- 3 probable human carcinogens
- 5 possible human carcinogens
- 8 neurotoxins
- 5 pesticides that disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system
- 5 pesticides that are categorized as oral toxicity category one, the most toxic designation
According to the USDA results vary depending on the ingredients:
- jarred peaches, green beans and apples sauce had some detectable pesticides
- while carrots, sweet potatoes and peas showed no significant amounts
- oats and rice had few detectable residues.
BPA has also been found in lids used with glass jars, and is consistent throughout different studies, even when companies claim they do not use BPA in their packaging.
An alternative to food in jars, food in pouches, have become increasingly popular over the past years thanks to how practical they are. They are easy to pack, and older babies can actually just feed themselves!
But how safe are they?
12 A High Number Of Food Pouches
Another common way of packaging ready-made baby food is in food pouches. We can now find almost anything in these plastic containers: fruit, vegetables meats, desserts, and juices.
The majority of companies producing baby food have now turned to this new form of packaging, made with a combination of BPA-free polypropylene (the part that is in contact with the food) and foil. Some pouches have spouts, which are also made of polypropylene.
However, based on research, 60% of products claiming to be BPA free tested positive for BPA! This is an outstanding percentage, and unfortunately some of these were also found to contain some of the other contaminants mentioned in the previous points.
Out of 138 baby food pouches and 105 baby food jars, some of the brands that scored a 1 star rating, in either one category or the other are: Earth's Best, NurturMe, Beechnut, Gerber, O Organics, Ella's Kitchen, Pure Spoon, and Bambino's Frozen Babyfood.
11 Boxed Fruit Juices
Being the health conscious consumers we are, we always read the labels on the juice boxes we purchase for our young toddlers. If we find a brand we trust, we become loyal customers. No added sugars? Check. No added colours? Check. Made with real fruit juice? Check.
Despite the fact the label is true to what the manufacture intended the product to contain, it does not mean it is actually the case, especially with fruit.
Whether you are buying organic or not, the risks of your child's juice being contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals is actually pretty high. In line with the study, some certified organic baby food products had more than twice the amount of arsenic found in the conventional baby foods tested.
Unlike infant formula, babies do not need juices of any kind, and the the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends following these guidelines for 100% pure fruit juices. Fruit drinks are in another category.
- it should never be given to babies under 6 months, unless directed by a medical professional
- do not allow your child to carry a sippy cup, bottle or box of juice throughout the day
- the intake of juice should be limited to 4 to 6 oz/d for children 1 to 6 years old. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice intake should be limited to 8 to 12 oz or 2 servings per day.
- never serve children unpasteurized juice
We have also recently seen images of fruit juice boxes contaminated with mold and other debris, where manufactures were never able to give a logical explanation, except for "naturally occurring".
Rule of thumb: best not to buy what you can't see. See below for some of the worse and best performing products in this category.
10 Liquid Nutritional And Electrolyte Drinks
If If your child is not reaching his developmental milestones, particularly with weight and height, doctors may sometimes recommend supplementing meals with nutritional drinks. Likewise, if he is dehydrated due to a high fever you may be encouraged to give your baby drinks with electrolytes.
This again, is one category where we must choose wisely, because if our baby needs extra nutrients to feel better we will follow all the instructions we have to, but we must be smart about it.
These products often include an excess of added sugars disguised as:
- various syrup
- organic dehydrated cane juice
- various nectars
- sugars derived from fruits
- the "ose" ending words (dextrose, fructose, maltose, xylose)
- invert sugar
- added lactose (naturally occurring in dairy products)
Sugar is a toxin in itself and studies have found it to have similar effects on the brain as certain drugs, and it can cause dependence.
The Clean Label Project included several brands in its study, and took into consideration contaminants like arsenic, lead, cadmium, and acrylamides, rather then sugar levels.
Out of 36 toddler juices and drinks, some of the worse performing products in these categories are: Gerber Apple Prune Juice from Concentrate, Dr. Rachs Kidz Shake Chocolate Cream Dietary Supplement both with 1 star. Other Gerber products like Gerber 100% Pear Juice, Apple Juice and Grape Juices From Concentrate all scored very high with 5 star ratings, as did Pediasure Grow and Gain shakes.
9 Boxed Baby Pasta
We all love mac and cheese, especially toddlers. This is the reason this item is found on most children's menus. Hopefully, restaurants prepare their own recipe from scratch, but how about the boxed versions we find on supermarket shelves?
According to the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, a national alliance of leading public health and food safety groups, "laboratory testing of 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese products revealed toxic industrial chemicals (known as phthalates) in the cheese powders of all of the tested items." In addition, "Scientists say there are no known safe levels of phthalates for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and young children."
Other simple pasta options have been found to contain azodicarbonamide, used as a flour bleaching agent and dough conditioner. This chemical has been linked to asthma and is banned in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and most European countries. Canada and the USA are two of only five countries listed in the International Food Additive Database that permit its use in flour as a dough-conditioning agent.
8 Certain Organic And Non-Organic Yogurts
A report by The Cornucopia Institute, "Culture Wars: How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, into Junk Food", accuses some of the biggest yogurt manufacturing companies of misleading parents. The Institute charges these companies of marketing tactics to convince the consumer that yogurts are a healthy food alternative, when in reality, they are high in sugar and /or questionable artificial sweeteners, colors and emulsifiers.
The Cornucopia Institute directly accuses these manufacturers of, "selling junk food masquerading as health food, mostly aimed at moms, who are hoping to provide their children an alternative, a more nutritious snack. In some cases, they might as well be serving their children soda pop or a candy bar with a glass of milk on the side.”
Here too, we can find a scorecard list of which yogurt brands are considered healthy snacks and which can be bundled with the junk food variety. Many can have unwanted additions such as:
- HFCS-90 (a variation of high fructorse corn syrup)
- neosugars (processed sugar from beets and cane)
- dimethylpolysiloxane (a preservative)
- nanoparticles (ie titanium dioxide has been found in certain yogurts)
- synthetic pesticides
Some of the worst rated products include Yoplait, Dannon, Chobani, Hiland, and Activia. Top rated brands on the other hand include, Butterworks, Maple Hill Creamery, and Seven Stars Farm.
7 Fresh Meats And Fish
As you begin introducing your baby to animal protein that is not milk, you will have to make an important decision. Where will you purchase your meat and fish and will you be able to make an informed decision on where the products come from? Will you buy traditionally farmed meat or grass-fed? Will you opt for farmed of wild fish?
The problem is that all animals can be directly dosed with pesticides to prevent pest infestation in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that exist on factory farms. But even more important is the extent to which animals are exposed to crop pesticides through their food. Even in more humane farms, where animals are grass-fed, or in places where animals are raised with organic feed, meats have been found to contain pesticides. These contaminants are stored in the fat and accumulate over time.
The Environmental Working Group estimates that a 167 million pounds of pesticides are used each year just to grow food for animals in the United States.
If you are buying Canadian meat you can at least be assured that it will contain no hormones or antibiotics. As a matter of fact, when an animal has to be medicated it is normally not butchered, or removed from the line-up until it is healthier. Canada has stricter standards with regards to the use of pesticides than the US, but unfortunately their use is still considered a must for mass food production.
Toxins in fish are impossible to avoid. According to UCSD, fish can concentrate extremely high levels of chemical residues in their flesh and fat, as much as 9 million times that of the water in which they live. Mercury isn't the only dangerous toxin in fish, people who eat fish also ingest PCBs.
Studies found that fish populations throughout the world are contaminated with industrial and agricultural pollutants, known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). It appears though that these pollutants have been consistently dropping over the last 30 years.
The United States Department of Health advises to avoid consuming the following fish, especially in young children and pregnant women:
- king mackerel
- imported marlin
- certain types of shark meat
- imported swordfish
- tuna steak (bluefin and bigeye)
Safer varieties of fish include (1-3 portions per week):
- black sea bass
- salmon (fresh or canned)
6 Refined Vegetables And Seed Oils
As your baby grows you will want to add more flavour to meals to keep him interested. The addition of certain vegetable oils, like extra-virgin olive oils, also adds precious nutrients to help your baby stay healthy. These oils should ideally not be used in cooking for baby, but added raw to the meal.
When vegetable oils are overcooked, they naturally generate toxins. Scientists found that heating up vegetable oils can lead to the release of high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes, which have been linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease and dementia.
Good to know: Olive oil and Coconut oil produce the lowest levels of harmful chemicals when heated.
What other forms of toxins can be found in vegetable oils? In a study done by the National Institute of Heath, the environment was found to be the main source of contamination of cold-pressed oils with pesticides such as, PCBs, PBDEs, PAHs, all at relatively high concentrations.
5 Homemade Fruits Sauces
You would think preparing homemade fruit sauces for your child would be the healthiest solution, but there are several factors to take into consideration before you do so.
- Are you choosing organic top quality produce?*
- Are you washing the produce thoroughly?
- Is your mixer clean and free of bacteria every time?
- Are you storing the sauce properly?
- Are you keeping in mind an expiry date?
*Contrary to what most people believe, "organic" does not mean 100% "pesticide-free" or "chemical-free", and under the laws of most US states, organic farmers are allowed to use a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders on their crops.
The difference is, if organic farmers decide to use pesticides they must be must be derived from natural sources, and not synthetically manufactured.
Pros and cons exist, there are many benefits to homemade baby food, just make sure to follow some rules, as well as avoid the USDA's dirty dozen if you are not buying organic:
- apples (40 different pesticides detected)
- celery (60 different pesticides detected)
- strawberries (60 different pesticides detected)
- peaches (60 different pesticides detected)
- spinach (50 different pesticides detected)
- nectarines (33 different pesticides detected)
- grapes (30 different pesticides detected)
- sweet bell peppers (50 different pesticides detected)
- potatoes (35 different pesticides detected)
- lettuce (50 different pesticides detected)
- blueberries (50 different pesticides detected)
- kale and collard greens (45 different pesticides detected)
Don't fear, you'll find The Clean 15 in the next post!
4 Homemade Vegetable Purees
As with fruit sauces, if you decide to prepare homemade veggie purees at home the same precautions must be followed because the same risks and benefits apply.
Some experts claim that bought baby foods, contain fewer pesticides than raw versions, since they are cooked before packaging, a process that reduces the chemical residues.
If you want to be safe in your choices there is also a list of The Clean 15, fruits and veggies you don't have to necessarily purchase as organic:
- sweet corn
- sweet peas
- cantaloupe (domestic)
- sweet potatoes
3 Toxins In Breastmilk
This is definitely a delicate one. Breast milk is always the best option for your baby, and if you have enough to sustain baby's regular development you should not worry.
We also know how much the environment we live in and the foods we eat can create toxins in our own bodies, that in turn can be transmitted to baby through breast milk.
Depending on where you live and the lifestyle you lead, the amount and type of toxins in breast milk will vary.
Type of toxins found in breastmilk:
- bisphenol A (BPA, a plastic component)
- PBDEs (used in flame retardants)
- perchlorate (used in rocket fuel)
- perfluorinated chemicals
- (PFCs, used in floor cleaners and non-stick pans)
- phthalates (used in plastics)
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC, commonly known as vinyl)
- heavy metals like cadmium, lead and mercury
Wait a second...aren't these some of the recurring toxins we already mentioned in the other points? If we are choosing the best foods for baby, why shouldn't we be doing the same for ourselves when nursing our baby?
The choices you make in your daily life will have a direct influence on your health, and in turn the health of the baby.
The good news is: "after having considered the problem of environmental contaminants in human milk, the WHO, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to recommend breastfeeding, " [over all others feeding options].
2 Dry Baby Snacks
You are driving in your car with baby, or taking a stroll in the park. Baby gets a little cranky, or restless, you distract him with a snack you know will calm him. Sound familiar?
Here too, the Clean Label Project tested 138 toddler snacks and found that even those having an organic certification and identified as BPA free, tested high for toxins such as arsenic and BPA. In fact, 60% of all products tested positive for BPA even though they identified as BPA free.
Some of the lowest rated brands in this study are: Sprout Organic Quinoa Puffs, Healthy Times, Little Duck Organics, Nurturme, Nosh, Parent's Choice, Gerber Grdauates, Happy Baby.... all with 1 star ratings.
1 No Safety In Tap Water
This one should not be a surprise. According to Health Canada, any water you give a baby under the age of six months should boil for two minutes and then cooled to make sure it is sterile to prevent baby from getting sick.
Also, in order to encourage baby's eating, paediatricians don't recommend giving babies any water at all, saying that breast milk, or regular feeding with formula are enough to satisfy thirst. Whatever water is used should be for the purpose of adding to a formula.
All tap water from public water systems in industrialized countries must adhere to stringent safety standards and is usually free from infection-causing organisms. Nevertheless, some private companies have autonomously tested tap water in hundreds of cities in the USA and in Canada and have discovered the following common toxins in the majority of results:
- fluoride (added voluntarily, but is is a neurotoxin and an endocrine disruptor)
- chlorine (has disinfectant properties)
- DDT (an illegal pesticide)
- HCB (a pesticide)
If you prefer purchasing bottled water to use for your baby, make sure it is non- carbonated water with a low sodium level, with 200 mg or less per litre. Some doctors still recommend boiling this water in cases where baby may have a compromised immune system.
In-light of these findings, companies are continuously trying to improve both manufacturing process and cross contamination. This information helps parents become better advocates for their children's health, and creates positive change in the baby food business.
BONUS: Infograph By The Clean Label Project:
Sources: Cleanlabelproject.org, Ecowatch.com, EWG.org, Mayoclinic.org, AAP.org, Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, USDA.gov, Cornucopia.org, UCSD.edu, Health Canada