If your kids enjoy tasty poppy-seed bagels for a special weekend breakfast, there is no need to pull the plug on their fun. They add a crunchy nuttiness that appeals to many palates. Poppy seeds come from the same plants used to make opiates such as morphine and codeine, but that does not mean they are dangerous for children -- in moderation.
Difference in Seeds and Pods
Although poppy seeds come from the plant harvested for opiates, the seeds are not where the plant's medicinal powers lie. Opiates develop from the milky sap found in a poppy's immature pods, which is full of alkaloids. Seeds have a much lower alkaloid content so they aren't suitable for medicines. Less alkaloid content makes them ideal for cooking, and they are often found in baked goods such as cakes, bagels and bread.
The small amount of alkaloids in poppy seeds means they are safe for kids in most instances, as long as they're eaten in moderation. A bagel dusted with the seeds isn't likely to contain enough seeds to cause any adverse effects in children who aren't sensitive to opiates. However, food with a high concentration of the seeds, such as some poppy-seed cakes and salad dressings, increase the levels of alkaloids you children ingest. Scientific research on safe levels of poppy seeds is lacking, but small amounts of seeds, such as those used as decoration on the top of bread, typically are considered safe for all ages.
Differences in Levels
The German food safety institute BFR notes that poppy seed alkaloid levels differ based on when the seeds are harvested, the time of year and their geographic location. Processing these seeds, such as soaking, grinding or heating them, tends to reduce their potency up to 90 percent. Avoid raw, unprocessed poppy seeds when buying food for your children. Ask the baker whether the poppy seeds are processed or check the label on a spice bottle if you are preparing the foods at home.
Signs of Trouble
The amount of opiate exposure is based in part on the child's weight. Toddlers and children who are small should eat fewer poppy seeds than older, bigger children should. Some children have a sensitivity to opiates, and the common side effects are multiplied to sometimes dangerous levels. Talk to your pediatrician to make sure poppy seeds are safe for your children based on the family's medical history. After feeding your children food containing poppy seeds, watch for danger signs such as shortness of breath, excessive sleepiness and nausea.