Rice-Based Infant Cereals Contain More Mercury Than Other Kinds, Study Finds

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Rice-Based Infant Cereals Contain More Mercury Than Other Kinds, Study Finds

Rice cereal is a popular choice for moms starting their babies on solid food, but new research indicates that parents might want to mix it up. A study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that rice-based cereals contain a lot more mercury than those that use other grains.

Mercury, an element often associated with fish, usually gets into food through water in a form called methylmercury. Eating too much can damage the nervous system, or cause birth defects if you’re pregnant. Right now the Food and Drug Administration already offers advice on what fish pregnant women and children should eat and how much, but the latest findings show a potential new cause for concern.

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“For infants, we typically think of mercury coming from breast milk, but this study shows that there are other sources we haven’t considered,” says co-author Yong Cai, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry at Florida International University.

In their tests, the scientists from FIU compared 119 different cereals made from rice and other grains. They found that the rice-based choices contained on average three times the amount of methylmercury as the multigrain options, and 19 times more than kinds made with other grains. That said, the majority of cereals tested below the Environmental Protection Agency‘s imposed limits on mercury, so don’t purge the pantry just yet.

Since rice is grown in water, it’s more susceptible to heavy metal contamination than other grains. In fact, the FDA is already taking steps to reduce the amount of arsenic in infant rice cereal, but experts continue to give the food the thumbs up for an important reason.

“Whole grain rice is still an incredibly nutritious and well-tolerated first food for infants, so if you’re using it regularly, I wouldn’t recommend doing away with it entirely,” advises Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Incorporating sources of other whole grains in addition to rice, like oat, barley and wheat can also provide minerals, B vitamins and fiber.”

So go ahead and keep buying your baby’s fave snack, but stock up on a few different options while you’re at it. It may help reduce their exposure to mercury — and break up the breakfast routine at the same time.

(h/t Consumer Reports)

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