How to Avoid Lead in Food? (Part 2 of a 2-part series)
Lead in food is no joke. But you can protect yourself by choosing clean brands and eating specific “helper” foods high in vitamin C, iron, magnesium, selenium, and calcium that actually prevent lead from making a home in your body. Here’s how.
To read more about how lead damages your health, see Part 1 of this blog series.
What foods have a higher lead contamination risk?
Like a bad boyfriend, not all products claiming to be “good for you” actually are. In fact, some can be toxic to your health because they have high lead residue. And though lead can be in virtually any food, numerous reports have revealed that certain crops have a greater risk of having high lead levels.
So, pay attention special attention if you eat foods, like
- Dark chocolate (esp. cocoa powder),
- powdered greens,
- sweet potatoes,
- protein smoothies,
- pea protein,
- meat substitutes, and
To read more about how lead damages your health, see part 1 of this blog series.
When did your lead exposure start? In the womb.
You’ve likely seen the reports about arsenic in baby food products and lead in baby food (more on arsenic in a future blog). But the threat of lead exposure for the baby starts much earlier. In fact, it starts with the mom’s early exposure to lead during HER childhood through the food she ate and the home and environment in which she lived.
You see, the lead you accumulate from various exposures stores in your bones for up to 30 years. It waits for just the right moment to released and travel around your body.
During pregnancy specifically, a woman’s body will release lead that has been stored in her bones. And tragically, the fetus absorbs the lead. In fact, being pregnant is the most significant event that will pull lead toxicity out of a female’s body.
It’s a terrible lesson, showing that what we eat and how we live can affect future generations. And, it starts before we are even old enough to understand what that means.
How does lead get into food?
Food that is contaminated by high levels of lead typically occurs due to human activity. We have mined and used lead for thousands of years in things like,
- house paints,
- painted wood toys,
- medicine, and
- water pipes (e.g., Flint, MI).
And the mining run-off from their production contaminates the soil to this day.
TIP: use your old pottery and china for display only to avoid lead leaching into your food.
Further, gasoline companies used lead for decades in fuel, and it is still allowed in some countries. And even though the U.S. government banned leaded gasoline in 1996, the runoff still contaminates some farmland areas.
Farmland nearby historically active volcanos may have high lead levels from the volcanic ash in the soil. This can wind up in your chocolate or protein powder.
Why is there more lead in pea protein and some other foods?
The crops listed above, like peas (you see pea protein everywhere in food these days), cannabis, and mustard greens, will pull in lead from soil and water and capture it in the plants’ molecules. They are part of a group of plants called phytoremediators.
These crops can be used to clean toxins out of the soil naturally. But if a crop is used for phytoremediation, it must be treated as toxic waste.
It may seem strange, but farmers don’t necessarily test their soil for lead or any heavy metals. So, if their soil is high in lead, they may be unknowingly passing on that toxicity to you. If you consume crops like sweet potatoes, cannabis, chocolate, mustard greens, and pea protein, in particular, you need to find brands you trust that have been screened for heavy metals.
Are there foods that help you detox from lead?
You may be eating organic food to benefit your body and the earth. But unfortunately, it won’t help lessen your lead exposure. That’s because organic standards do not address toxic heavy metals like lead. Moreover, there likely is some tiny amount of lead in almost everything we consume.
Luckily, you can protect yourself by eating certain foods to help your body reject the naturally occurring lead you are exposed to. The nutrients in these foods act as “natural antagonists” to lead and include:
- wild blueberries, and
- brown seaweed (Atlantic dulse)
- barley grass
- green tea,
- spirulina, and
- curry spices.
How can you make sure your food isn’t a lead risk?
We all have favorite brands of certain products in our kitchens. That’s a great place to focus. Consider taking these actions to protect yourself and assert your right to know what is in your food.
- PICK THE RIGHT FOODS FOR LITTLE ONES. Stay away from baby food with sweet potatoes and toddler snacks with pea protein.
- AVOID CERTAIN VEGAN SUBSTITUTES. Many meat and dairy substitutes have a significant amount of pea protein. And if the company can’t assure you they test for lead and have strict standards for it, steer clear.
- Buy safe chocolate or pea protein products. Ask if the company will share their lead results or you can’t find tests on them by 3rd parties, especially if they are a regular part of your diet. There are a number of reports to choose from like As You Sow for heavy metals in chocolate. But unfortunately, a previous, comprehensive report on over 130 by The Clean Label Project has been taken off the internet. (ZEGO Plant Protein is Prop 65 compliant, with our most recent tests showing no measurable amount of lead.)
- never use off-market cannabis or cigarette products. They are more likely to have elevated lead levels. If you want to indulge, know that legal cannabis products sold in California, for example, have to meet strict purity standards and will have a purity panel on them showing they are below the state’s strict lead limits. Even still, we hear from people in the industry that these reports may not be reliable.
- LIMIT IMPORTED RED WINE AND VINEGAR. Don’t drink more than a bottle of imported red a day to limit your lead exposure, and because it’s really not a habit of highly successful people. Take special care with balsamic vinegar as well, as the lead can be further concentrated there (though you consume much less of it than wine).
- Ask your favorite food companies if they have purity standards for lead. And ask them to share their lead testing with you or to tell you if they are “California Prop 65 compliant.” Stick with the ones that will share their test data or ones that 3rd parties have tested (see bullet #3).
How Does ZEGO Control for Lead?
At ZEGO, we require lead testing of all ingredients we source that are at risk for elevated lead contamination. If the farmer or supplier doesn’t have access to validated third-party testing, we send a sample to our own third-party lab. ZEGO requires that the food sample results show no measurable lead, or at least a level below the Prop 65 threshold based on serving size (<0.5PPB).
You can see our results for our protein powder, oats, and chocolate on our Food Safety section of our website or by scanning the QR code on any of those products’ packages.
What Can You Do to Advocate for Cleaner Food?
ZEGO is pushing for greater transparency in the food and beverage industry, encouraging other companies to test for toxins, like lead, and publish their results like we do. But your opinion is more important than ours. By far.
You see, companies will start to verify their products’ purity if enough consumers refuse to buy them without verification. After all, nothing is a more powerful motivator to companies than consumer demand—think of how quickly companies got rid of trans fats and the rapid growth of the gluten-free and nut milk industries. Those changes came about because consumers wanted changes.
It’s time to combat lead in our food products and in other everyday items we consume. Together, we will bring about honest farmers, healthier soil, cleaner products, and safer people. And with that, we will help regenerate our planet.
Colleen Kavanagh is the founder and CEO of ZEGO. ZEGO is the first purity-transparent food company, making superfood products with traceable transparency designed to be safe for most all people to eat regardless of dietary restrictions like common allergies, intolerances, or diabetes.
ZEGO makes oats, muesli, protein powder, Mix-ins, and nutrition bars. All products are gluten free, peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, soy free, sesame free, glyphosate free, lupin free, and sulfite free. ZEGO is certified as a B Corp and as Women Owned (WBENC).
San Francisco, CA
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