Baby Food for Thought: How Safe is Rice Cereal?
For generations, rice cereal has been a top choice for babies starting solid foods, but lately there’s growing concern about what’s in it besides the rice: arsenic. UR Medicine’s Dr. Ruth Lawrence, an internationally recognized expert on breastfeeding and infant nutritional needs, offers some information and advice for parents.
Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, air and water. Because rice is grown in water, any arsenic in the water supply binds to the rice as it grows. A known carcinogen, arsenic can influence risk of cardiovascular, immune and other diseases, and research has shown that even low levels can have a negative impact on babies’ neurodevelopment.
Both adults and infants are exposed to arsenic when eating rice, but it’s a bigger concern for babies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says rice intake for infants, primarily through infant rice cereal, is about three times greater than for adults relative to body weight. In fact, people eat the most rice (relative to their weight) at approximately 8 months of age, a prime time for infant brain development.
The FDA recently proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. Their testing found that most infant rice cereals on the market either meet, or are close to, the proposed level. A JAMA Pediatrics study, published on the heels of the FDA’s recommendation, advises parents to keep an eye on the amount of cereal their babies eat. Researchers followed children for a number of years, noting the amount of rice products they ate and analyzing the arsenic levels in their urine. Babies who ate rice cereals had higher concentrations of arsenic than those who didn’t.
Here’s some advice for parents who are wondering if, why and when to consider feeding rice cereal to babies.
- Follow the “six-month” rule. Don’t feed your baby rice cereal—or any other solid food—prior to six months of age. Babies should be exclusively breastfed or given formula (or a combination of breast milk and formula) for the first six months of life. Breast milk, and even formula, is much more nutritious for babies at this age than solid-food alternatives.
- Note the benefits of rice cereal. There are reasons why rice cereal is so popular: it’s easy to digest, doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction as the gluten in wheat can, and is well tolerated by babies who are transitioning from breast milk or formula to solid food. In an appropriate quantity, it’s still a food you can include in your baby’s diet.
- Watch your baby’s intake. The greatest brain development occurs in the first year of life and a baby’s diet has an impact on that development. When you feed your baby rice cereal, follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice: Don’t feed rice cereal every day and don’t make it the only food in the meal.
- Pick your brand of rice cereal wisely. Levels of inorganic arsenic can vary widely by brand in both baby foods and products for adults. (Check out Consumer Reports’ study of arsenic levels in a variety of products.)
- Expand your baby’s diet. Add other grain cereals to your baby’s diet, including barley, quinoa, and oats. Choose single-grain cereals, rather than multigrain so you can see how your baby reacts to various grains and avoid any that seem to cause a problem. When it’s time to add vegetables and fruits, follow the same principle and introduce one new food at a time.
- Choose iron-fortified cereals. These help ensure your baby gets the nutrients it needs for optimum brain development.
- Don’t overlook other potential sources of arsenic. Arsenic can be found in other foods and other sources besides rice cereal—especially groundwater. If you have a well, be sure to have it checked periodically for arsenic as well as heavy metals such as lead, which also can be harmful to babies’ and adults’ health.
Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., is a professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and medical director of the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center and of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center. She is an internationally renowned expert in breastfeeding and author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, now in its eighth edition.
Can I skip rice cereal? Dangers of rice cereal for babies
Home › Healthy food and meals for kids › Can I skip rice cereal? Dangers of rice cereal for babies
As the parent, it’s your choice what first food your baby will encounter. And if you’ve heard about potential dangers of rice cereal for babies, you might be inclined to skip it.
The good news is, you’re totally fine to just never use rice cereal (or any other baby cereal!). In fact, there’s plenty of reasons (including toxic chemicals) to avoid it.
If you want, you can skip rice cereal and go straight to baby food. Full stop.
Want the scoop on safe solid foods that are free of toxic chemicals? Get a copy of the Simple Starting Solids Cheatsheet to learn all the tips you need to start solids with confidence.
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Let’s look a bit at the history of baby cereal and why it’s not necessary now, as well as the specific dangers of rice for babies. And don’t worry, I’ll give you some great tips for better first foods for your baby.
Table of Contents
History of rice cereal
Although I scoured the internet, I couldn’t find the specific history of rice cereal. I could, however, find details on how the use of baby cereal came into practice.
In the late 1800s through early 1900s, manufacturers and pediatricians worked to develop an infant formula that would feed babies adequately. Usually, formula was based on diluted evaporated cow’s milk with cream and/or sugar added to make the protein / fat / sugar content closer to that of human milk. No one really thought about vitamins and minerals in formula or breast milk at the time.
By 1915, basically all cow’s milk (including evaporated milk) was pasteurized. While this process killed germs and kept milk fresh longer, it also destroyed vitamins in the milk. As a result, infants fed formula only often developed rickets and other diseases of malnutrition. They needed a supplement of some kind.
In 1938, three Canadian pediatricians developed an infant cereal they called Pablum. It contained finely ground wheat, oats, corn, iron, bone meal, and alfalfa leaves. It was like a powdered multivitamin for infants.
Pablum made a huge difference in the health of infants and toddlers and was a great step forward in infant health. Babies thrived on formula and Pablum.
But since then, formula has improved greatly to include essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, significantly more babies breastfeed now than then (fewer than 30% of mothers initiated breastfeeding in 1965). We no longer need baby cereal for vitamins and minerals anymore.
Does rice cereal help babies sleep longer?
If you’re exhausted, you might be ready to do anything to help your baby sleep. Especially if your child is going through a sleep regression, it’s understandable that you need help.
RELATED: How to survive sleep regressions without sleep training
Aunt Sally may tell you that a dollop of rice cereal in your baby’s bottle will help them sleep better, but that’s a myth. As a matter of fact, the CDC specifically says that adding rice cereal will not help your child sleep through the night, and it may lead to choking. And many parents complain that adding rice cereal to a bottle (or feeding it with a spoon) when a child is only a few months old actually makes them sleep worse.
That’s because a baby is not ready to eat and digest solids until they can sit up on their own (around 6 months of age).
Dangers of rice cereal
Now, parents are often told to choose an iron-fortified, single grain cereal for their baby’s first food. And rice, with its low allergen content, is a very common choice.
But here’s the problem: Rice is often very high in arsenic. According to the WHO, arsenic is naturally found in soil and water. Because of this, arsenic can also end up in crops grown in contaminated areas.
Arsenic has many negative health impacts. It damages the immune system and leads to increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, arsenic is a carcinogen. So anything we can do to avoid our child’s exposure to arsenic is a good thing.
Rice is the worst crop for arsenic contamination. This is due to two reasons: First, rice is grown on a flooded paddy. All that extra water allows rice to uptake extra arsenic (and rice is unique in that it uptakes arsenic really well).
Secondly, rice is grown in areas that have been historically treated for pest control with arsenic-containing pesticides. Even though much less arsenic pesticide is used now, the arsenic left from decades past won’t break down. There’s not a good way to remove the arsenic from the soil, so it’s just left there.
So if you’re wondering if rice cereal is bad for babies, this is why you shouldn’t feed baby rice cereal: The risk of arsenic exposure.
Why is rice cereal not good for babies?
As mentioned above, rice cereal has a huge risk of arsenic exposure. All baby rice cereal brands, including well-respected brands like Gerber and Earth’s Best, were found to contain arsenic in a recent study. In fact, rice cereal contained six times more arsenic than other infant cereals (such as barley, buckwheat, or oatmeal).
Plus, rice cereal is really just a “filler” food. There’s no real nutrients, unless the baby cereal is fortified with iron or vitamins. Breastmilk and formula already has all the nutrition your child needs up to six months and beyond.
And if you do delayed cord clamping (until it stops pulsing), the cord blood that is transferred to your newborn gives them enough iron stores until they start eating solids. But if you’re still worried about your baby having enough iron, you can get a supplement from your pediatrician to add to a bottle.
Does all baby rice cereal have arsenic?
All that said, baby rice cereal is often very high in arsenic. So if you feed your child with rice cereal daily (or even several times a week), you’re significantly increasing their risk for many long-term health effects.
Unfortunately, buying organic rice cereal won’t remove the risk of arsenic exposure. Remember, this isn’t an issue of “just don’t spray pesticides.” Arsenic is already present in the soil where rice is grown, and there’s no good way to remove it.
RELATED: 5 ways to avoid pesticides in your food
In fact, studies have repeatedly found arsenic in organic baby rice cereal. So buying organic won’t change things.
In the same vein, making your own homemade baby rice cereal won’t remove the arsenic either. You’re still using rice.
RELATED: Is homemade baby food safer than store bought?
So honestly, your best bet is to just not give your child rice cereal.
What does the AAP say about rice cereal?
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has something to say about rice cereal! The suggest not using rice cereal in a bottle to “help your child sleep better.” For one thing, that old wives’ tale doesn’t work.
Plus, adding rice cereal to a bottle is a choking hazard and adds calories that your child doesn’t need at this age. They’ll get everything they need from either breast milk or formula before six months.
Does rice cereal change baby poop?
One other not-awesome thing about rice cereal: It changes baby’s stools from soft, seedy stools to much thicker ones. There’s a good reason for this.
Remember how your prenatal vitamins with iron upset your tummy? That’s because iron can cause constipation. And since rice cereal is fortified with iron (not to mention rice by itself can cause constipation), your baby may have trouble pooping.
And in turn, your baby’s constipation won’t feel good for them! They’re going to be fussier, and when they finally do go poop, their diaper is going to be gross. Do yourself a favor and skip the rice cereal.
Is oatmeal better than rice cereal for babies?
Because of the risk of arsenic exposure, some people (who are married to the idea of baby cereal) recommend just using a different grain. Often, oatmeal is suggested because it can be gluten free (if it’s processed away from other wheat products; check the label).
However, many of the same issues exist with oatmeal cereal vs. rice cereal. Oatmeal cereal can cause constipation. Oatmeal cereal in a bottle is a choking risk. And finally, babies are still not ready for solid foods until 6 months of age.
Better first foods for baby instead of rice cereal
If you’re wondering if you can skip rice cereal and go straight to baby food, the answer is yes (once your child is sitting up independently and around 6 months).
Fortunately, there are many better alternatives for your little one instead of rice cereal. They have more nutrition, are better tasting, and are more interesting for your baby anyways!
And while you can start with purees if you want, but have you heard of baby led weaning? The premise is that you give your child sticks and chunks of soft solid food (if you can squish it between two fingers, you’re good) and generally let them eat what the family eats. It’s much easier for you, and actually has some great health benefits for baby!
RELATED: What is baby-led weaning (and why I love it)
Here are some of my (and my kids’) favorite first baby foods:
- Avocado – Babies love the richness of avocado, plus it’s a neutral flavor. I also like that it’s not sweet.
- Creamed spinach – Mixing finely chopped cooked spinach with a little breastmilk or formula has been a success in my household.
- Banana – This is a super easy first fruit to give your baby. If you gently squeeze the banana, it will naturally split into three “sticks” that are perfect size for chubby little baby hands.
- Butternut squash – Cut it into little sticks (not cubes) before you roast it to make it easy to hold.
- Steamed cauliflower or broccoli florets – Just make sure they’re pretty mushy. And don’t give too much at once because it may cause gas and upset tummies (a lesson I learned with my oldest).
You’ll notice I didn’t mention sweet potatoes. That’s because sweet potatoes also tend to be high in heavy metals like lead. Butternut squash is a better alternative.
And yes, you can totally season baby’s food before you serve it. Garlic, cumin, chili powder, ginger, even a little pepper are all okay for your baby (and if they are breastfed, they have already tried these flavors in your milk). Just avoid salting the food you serve your baby.
Is it safe to eat rice?
Does that mean that you and your kids should never eat rice? Not necessarily. Here’s a few tips so you can minimize the amount of arsenic your family gets when you eat rice.
Even though there’s nutrients in the bran, you should choose white rice instead of brown. Most of the arsenic is stored in the hull of rice, so removing it (as done with white rice) will make it safer.
Also rinse your rice well before cooking. This simple act will remove much of the arsenic as well.
To remove even more arsenic, parboil your rice for 5 minutes before draining, replacing the water, and then cook it the rest of the way (as described in this Nature article).
To get rice with the least amount of arsenic in it, choose Basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan.
Conclusions on skipping rice cereal
If you were thinking about skipping rice cereal for your baby, I hope this article makes you more confident that it’s totally okay to do so. Like I mentioned, I have never given any of my four kids rice cereal, and they’re all doing well.
Rice cereal is a holdover from Pablum, invented to help babies thrive even when being fed incomplete baby formulas from the late 1800s through mid 1900s. With formula’s improvement and breastfeeding on the rise, there is no longer any need for rice cereal in your baby’s diet.
RELATED: Benefits of breastfeeding by age
So if you’re wondering if rice cereal necessary for babies, wonder no more. Skip the rice cereal in favor of more nutritious, satisfying foods after your child reaches six months. And if you’re worried about how to introduce solids in a way that’s safe for baby and fun for you both, be sure to grab your copy of the Simply Starting Solids Cheatsheet.
Samantha Radford has a PhD in Chemistry from Emory University (Atlanta, GA). She is an exposure scientist who focuses on maternal-child health.
Samantha has years of research into learning about how chemical exposures affect both unborn babies and children, as well as how toxicants and medications are passed through breastmilk.
Samantha also studies the effect of exposure to hormones induced by personal experiences, for example, cortisol in babies who are stressed or oxytocin in mothers bonding to their infants.
Through the years, Samantha has expanded her academic and personal studies to how exposures to different parenting styles affect the mental and physical health of children as they grow to adulthood.
Rice porridge for children | Nutrilak
Reading time: 4 minutes
Rice porridge is a dish made from milk (or water) and grains of rice.
Depending on the size of the grains, round-grain, medium-grain and long-grain rice are distinguished.
Rice grains can be processed in different ways, which determines the type of grain obtained: polished, polished, crushed. The color of rice is white, brown, black, red.
Benefits of rice porridge
Rice grains are rich in carbohydrates, gluten free and low in protein. Therefore, rice is considered a dietary product and is used in nutrition for diseases such as diarrhea, celiac disease and phenylketonuria.
At what age can rice porridge be given to a child?
The best time for a baby to get acquainted with cereals is the period from 16 to 27 weeks of life. It is called the “window of tolerance”. It is during this period that the immune system forms the correct response (tolerance), the result of which will be a good tolerability of the product.
Rice porridge with milk for a baby
Whole cow’s or goat’s milk is not recommended for children under 6 months of age, including for making cereals. It is better to cook cereals in water. If necessary, and when ready, you can add breast milk or infant formula, for example, Nutrilak Premium Sour Milk.
Rice porridge with water is preferable for a child in the first 6 months of life. Closer to the year and beyond, you can cook porridge in milk. To facilitate cooking, rice grains can be ground to a flour state before cooking. But, it is easier to use cereals that do not require cooking, for example, 100% natural Nutrilak Premium Procereals rice milk porridge with banana.
Recipes for cooking rice porridge for a child
How to cook rice porridge for a child
The cereal must be washed, cleaned of husks, unpeeled grains, foreign particles, impurities and can be boiled. If desired, before cooking, rice can be soaked in cold water overnight, or pour boiling water for a minute and rinse again.
1 part of cereal is poured with 1 part of water and put on medium or slow fire. The duration of cooking depends on the size and variety of cereals.
For children under one year old, it is preferable to grind cereals in a blender before serving. Salt and oil are added only after 6 months. For children older than a year, cooked grains can be used as an independent dish (porridge) or as a side dish, it can be added to soups and salads.
Rice porridge for children recipe
Rinse, peel and dry the grits. Grind in a coffee grinder, pour one part of boiled milk and leave in a thermos for 2 hours.
Cool the porridge to 30-35 degrees, add salt, fruits, berries, etc. to taste.
Rice porridge is a dietary and healthy product. It can be used from 4 months.
For the first feeding, it is better to use industrial rice porridge.
Rice can be cooked with water and milk.
The use of rice grains is not limited to porridge.
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- Benefits of rice porridge
- At what age can you give rice porridge to a child?
- Rice porridge with milk for a child
- Recipes for cooking rice porridge for a child
- Rice porridge for children recipe
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Children’s rice porridge with milk — step by step recipe with photo
Every mother knows the recipe for children’s rice porridge with milk. It is rare to meet a child who would not love tender and airy sweet rice porridge. This dish is prepared for children who have not yet learned how to bite off pieces of food and chew them well. Rice with milk is very useful. It will replenish calcium reserves and fill you with energy for the whole day. The sweet creamy taste is reminiscent of a dessert.
Author: Anna Sinitsyna,
Food.ru culinary editor
Nutritional value per 100 g. Calories calculated for raw foods.
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Levels 1-2: very simple and simple dishes.
Level 3: preparation is clear, but experience is needed, it may not work the first time.
Levels 4 and 5 require special technique, skill and time.
Estimate how spicy the dish will turn out, to which pepper or spices are added according to the recipe.
1 — food was peppered quite a bit.
2 — pepper is felt, but the dish does not have a sharp aftertaste.
3 — A slight «sharp» aftertaste appears.
4 — pepper is strongly felt, but the dish can still be eaten without drinking.
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Here we draw your attention to whether the dish contains common and dangerous allergens. Before cooking, make sure that you do not have an individual intolerance to other products from the list of ingredients.
Cow’s milk protein
Make sure that you do not have an individual intolerance to other ingredients.
Products for the recipe
|Water||200 ml = 200 g|
|350 ml = 350 g|
|Salt||1 pinch = 1 g|
|Sugar||1 st. l. = 25 g|
|Butter 901 92||to taste|
To make porridge even healthier, you can cook it with coconut or almond milk.
Step by Step Photo Recipe
Arrange all ingredients conveniently. Measure out the right amount of food.
Prepare the porridge. Pour water into a heavy-bottomed pot and boil it over high heat. Add rice, salt, stir and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid, leaving a small gap for steam to escape. Cook the rice until the liquid has evaporated from the pan. Heat up the milk.