When you hear someone mention heavy metal, your mind might wander to images (and sounds) of long-haired rockers banging out aggressive tunes. But there is more than one kind of heavy metal. Today, let’s talk about the heavy metals found in certain foods.
Of course, you’ll want to know about what heavy metals are, which metals are in fact heavy metals, what the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) says about heavy metal concentrations in food.
Read on to learn more about exposure to toxic metals and the risk they may pose to our health.
What Are Heavy Metals?
Believe it or not, heavy metals are part of the food chain and can be found in various food products — including baby food. In fact, the human body does need certain metals, like iron. These metals are often added to foods like fortified breakfast cereals and infant formulas.1
However, there are certain metals found in foods that are actually toxic to the human body and cause for concern.
The FDA currently monitors foods for their content of heavy metals. The following metals are at the top of the FDA’s heavy metal monitoring list:
- Organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic
The content of toxic metal in foods can be influenced by several different factors:
- Environmental conditions during growth
- Post-harvest handling
- Food processing
- Food preparation
- Cooking techniques3
In some cases, the content of metal can increase if food sources are grown in contaminated soil. If you use contaminated water to cook, it’s possible your food could suffer an even greater exposure to heavy metals.4 Read up on regions with possibly contaminated soil and or contaminated water. When purchasing your food, do your best to steer clear of items produced in contaminated regions.
What Makes Metal A Heavy Metal?
If a metallic chemical element has a somewhat high density (and can be poisonous at low concentrations), it is usually considered a heavy metal (the high density makes the metal, quite literally, heavy).
Heavy metals occur naturally in that they do come from the earth’s crust. But human behavior and general industry have altered the biochemical balances of these metals to the point where certain plants have accumulated and absorbed metal deposits. So, if you eat plant foods exposed to heavy metals, it’s possible to suffer some dangerous health effects.5
But you should know that not all heavy metals are considered to be equally harmful. Scientists conclude the most troublesome metals are lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and mercury. The FDA has issued safety levels for arsenic, lead, and mercury. These metals happen to be the ones that find themselves in the food supply most often.6
What Makes Heavy Metals Dangerous?
Well, heavy metal toxicity depends on a few different factors like dosage, the way in which you’re exposed, and chemical species. Furthermore, toxicity may shift depending on your genes, age, gender, and nutritional status.7
But heavy metals do tend to affect cell membranes, mitochondria, and even select enzymes involved in metabolism, detoxification, and cell damage repair.8
Furthermore, metal ions have even been reported to interact with DNA and nuclear proteins. This can lead to changes in cell cycles and potentially cell death.9
How Can I Decrease My Exposure To Heavy Metals?
Unfortunately, you’re not able to entirely control your environment or screen for metal exposure every day. But if you know which products contain lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, zinc, and selenium then at least you can refrain from utilizing those products.
One food product that contains high levels of heavy metal is rice. Rice is quick to absorb arsenic from water and soil. Rice is also a high-lectin food. But refraining from eating rice — and keeping rice cereals off your table — is a good idea when it comes to reducing your heavy metal intake.10
Also, read the labels on the foods you regularly purchase. Often you’ll find rice as a filler ingredient in these foods.
If you’re looking for other ways to limit your exposure to heavy metals, consider the tips below:
- Try and limit your intake of high-mercury fish like tuna. Seafood can be higher in metal exposure than other proteins… so do your best to search for low-mercury wild-caught seafood.11
- This one is a must… stop consuming toxins like alcohol and nicotine.12,13
- Water naturally cleanses your system. You can talk with your doctor about how much water you should be drinking and how to maintain a good balance of electrolytes (especially if you are detoxing or fasting). Also, water sources can often be polluted by dangerous heavy metals. Do your best to avoid water sourced from industrial areas and drink filtered water whenever you can. Research the regions from which your drinking water is sourced. You may have a chance to purchase bottled water from low-metal regions.14
- Finally, what you eat matters. Ditch all kinds of toxins, if you can, in dairy and lectin-filled grains. And limit your meat and shellfish intake. Also, get rid of any artificial sweeteners and sugar in your pantry. Processed foods should remain limited in your diet as well.15
Heavy Metals Can Be Beat
In the end, while you can’t control the environment, you can research your local area. And if you’re fortunate enough to live in a low-metal region, purchase produce grown locally.