Solid foods to avoid

What should I not give my baby?

Some foods are unhealthy or unsafe and should not be given to babies. Some are choking risks, such as hard, small, and round food; smooth, sticky food; and stringy vegetables and fruits. Unhealthy foods may result in obesity and include salty, sugary, and processed or “junk” foods, fruit juice, sports, caffeinated, or soda (fizzy) drinks, and drinks with artificial sweeteners or added sugar. Other unsafe foods include undercooked meat and honey for babies less than one year old. Heavy metals such as arsenic, which can harm a baby’s brain, have been found in commercial baby foods and in drinking water used to make infant formula.

A) Describing food safety

Solid foods can present a danger to babies when they are:

  • A choking risk.
  • Not healthy.
  • Not safe.

It is recommended to offer a baby a wide variety of homemade foods that have been safely-prepared and minimize the use of commercially prepared foods.  

For more information, please refer your local health agencies.

B) Foods that are a choking risk

Babies under three years of age and especially under one year are at risk of choking. A baby’s breathing tube (windpipe) is about as wide as a baby’s pinky fingernail (King 1993). This gives you an idea of the size of foods that can pose a choking risk.

The following foods can cause choking or other dangers:

  • Hard, small, and round food
  • Smooth and sticky food
  • Stringy vegetables and fruits
  • Fish with bones

C) Foods that are not healthy

Children grow quickly during the first few years age and need healthy food to set them on a life-long path to good health.

Unhealthy foods can result in obesity and related health problems (Rose 2017). These foods include:

  • Salty foods
  • Foods with added sugar such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose
  • Processed or “junk” foods
  • Juice (Heyman 2017)
  • Sports, caffeinated, or soda (fizzy) drinks
  • Drinks with artificial sweeteners or added sugar

One study (Herrick 2020) of over 1,000 American children showed that during 2011 to 2016, 98% of toddlers and 60% of babies consumed sugar on any given day.

1) Juice

The American Academy of Pediatrics says fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits for babies younger than one year and has no essential role in healthy balanced diets of children (Heyman 2017). Babies over six months, toddlers, and older children should eat whole fruit instead. 

If juice is used, it should be 100% fruit juice with no added sugars and given in small amounts.

2) Follow-on formula

There is no role for follow-on formula aimed at children after the first year of life.

D) Foods that are not safe

Avoid giving your baby foods that may result in infection such as:

  • Undercooked meat and eggs
  • Honey and corn syrup, until the baby is one year old, because of the risk of botulism  (Harris 2021; Olsen 2000; Tanzi 2002).
  • Improperly canned or improperly fermented foods, because of the risk of botulism
  • Unpasteurized juices
  • Unpasteurized cow’s milk (Currier 2018)

E) Heavy metals in the baby's foods and milk

Heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and lead) have been found in commercially prepared baby foods. These can have various effects, including impaired development of a baby’s brain. For more information about heavy metals and other environmental risks in your area, please contact your local health agencies.

1) Arsenic

a) Sources of arsenic

The most dangerous form of arsenic, inorganic arsenic, is found in drinking water in places around the world. Consumption of infant formula or solid foods prepared with arsenic-contaminated water increases a baby’s exposure to arsenic. The arsenic levels of breast milk of mothers living in arsenic-contaminated areas are low (Cubadda 2017).

Arsenic can also be taken up by plants grown in arsenic-contaminated water. The foods that contribute most to arsenic exposure include (Cubadda 2017):

  • Rice and rice-derived foods 
  • Non-rice cereals (typically wheat-based)
  • Certain vegetables
  • Fruit and fruit juices
  • Shellfish
  • Seaweed

Arsenic can be present in organic and non-organic rice. The amount of arsenic depends on the area where the rice is grown and the type of rice. Brown rice tends to have more arsenic. 

b) Effects of arsenic

Arsenic has been shown to be associated with various illnesses, including:

  • Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Infections
  • Skin sores
  • Cancer (skin, bladder, and lung)

The developing brains of babies are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of arsenic.

c) Avoiding arsenic

Researchers, government agencies, and consumer groups have raised concerns about the amount of arsenic eaten by babies (FDA 2016; Gu 2020; Hojsak 2015; Karagas 2016; Signes-Pastor 2017). This may result in monitoring and a decrease in arsenic levels of commercially prepared baby foods. Some governments have imposed limits on arsenic levels resulting in recalls.

Occasional rice consumption is not a problem. Iron-fortified rice cereal should be alternated with other iron-containing cereals and foods (Cook 1997).

This is one of several reasons that rice cereal should not be added to the baby's bottles.

2) Mercury

Mercury is known to accumulate in large fish. Consumed in large amounts, it can harm the brain and nervous system. 

References

Cook JD, Reddy MB, Burri J, et al. The influence of different cereal grains on iron absorption from infant cereal foods. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):964-9
 
Cubadda F, Jackson BP, Cottingham KL, et al. Human exposure to dietary inorganic arsenic and other arsenic species: State of knowledge, gaps and uncertainties. Sci Total Environ. 2017 Feb 1;579:1228-1239
 
Currier RW, Widness JA. A Brief History of Milk Hygiene and Its Impact on Infant Mortality from 1875 to 1925 and Implications for Today: A Review. J Food Prot. 2018 Sep 20:1713-1722

Gu Z, de Silva S, Reichman SM. Arsenic Concentrations and Dietary Exposure in Rice-Based Infant Food in Australia. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jan 8;17(2):415 

Harris R, Tchao C, Prystajecky N, et al. A summary of surveillance, morbidity and microbiology of laboratory-confirmed cases of infant botulism in Canada, 1979–2019. Can Commun Dis Rep 2021;47(7/8):322–8

Herrick KA, Fryar CD, Hamner HC, et al. Added Sugars Intake among US Infants and Toddlers. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020 Jan;120(1):23-32

Heyman MB, Abrams SA. AAP Section on Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, AAP Committee on Nutrition. Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations. Pediatrics. 2017;139(6):e20170967
 
Hojsak I, Braegger C, Bronsky J, et al; ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Arsenic in rice: a cause for concern. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2015 Jan;60(1):142-5
 
Karagas MR, Punshon T, Sayarath V, et al. Association of Rice and Rice-Product Consumption With Arsenic Exposure Early in Life. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Jun 1;170(6):609-16
 
King BR, Baker MD, Braitman LE, et al. Endotracheal tube selection in children. A comparison of four methods. Annals of Emergency Medicine 1993; 22: 530–4

Olsen SJ, Swerdlow DL. Risk of infant botulism from corn syrup. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2000 Jun;19(6):584-5

Rose CM, Birch LL, Savage JS. Dietary patterns in infancy are associated with child diet and weight outcomes at 6 years. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017 May;41(5):783-788
 
Signes-Pastor AJ, Woodside JV, McMullan P, et al. Levels of infants' urinary arsenic metabolites related to formula feeding and weaning with rice products exceeding the EU inorganic arsenic standard. PLoS One. 2017 May 4;12(5):e0176923
 
Tanzi MG, Gabay MP. Association between honey consumption and infant botulism. Pharmacotherapy. 2002 Nov;22(11):1479-83
 
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA proposes limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. Maryland: U. S. Food and Drug Administration; 2016 Apr 1 [cited 2017 Sep 11]