Toxic metals now banned in pesticides still linger in our soil and water—and they are present in a frightening proportion of baby foods, according to a new study. Researchers at the Healthy Babies Bright Futures Foundation say arsenic, lead, mercury, or cadmium were found in almost all of the 168 baby foods from US manufacturers it tested. The researchers say the neurotoxic metals are harming young brains, slowing down development, and causing attention deficit disorders and lower IQs. "The heavy metals interfere with the way the brain is supposed to get wired," report author Charlotte Brody, the national director of the HBBF, tells NBC. "Everything we can do to drop the levels of these chemicals that kids are exposed to just gives them a better chance of learning."
Lead, found in 95% of baby foods tested, was the most prevalent heavy metal. The researchers say foods made with rice—especially brown rice—were the most contaminated, especially with arsenic. They also recommend cutting back on fruit juices and on carrots and sweet potatoes, since root crops tend to absorb heavy metals. "Best first foods for infants are avocado, pureed veggies, peanut-butter oatmeal, and salmon," pediatrician Tanya Altmann tells CNN. "They all provide important nutrients that babies need, help develop their taste buds to prefer healthy food and may decrease food allergies." Brody says the FDA needs to do more on the issue, since 90% of the foods involved in the study had no standards set for the maximum safe limit of heavy metals. (Read more baby food stories.)