Food With Metals

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Food with metals is a growing trend. Some people say that metals help to improve health, while others believe that metals can cause negative side effects. There are many foods with metal content, so it is important to be aware of what you are eating.

Food With Metals

Metals exist all around us. They occur naturally in the environment and you can find them in a variety of food sources. Many metals pose no threat to health but certain heavy metals—ie. ones that are heavy, dense, and exist in the Earth’s crust—can cause a range of illnesses in children and adults.

The four main heavy metals that can cause health issues are mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration monitors levels of these “big four” heavy metals in food and drinking water, but some sources inevitably fall through the cracks. (Take the high levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, for example.) Here are four sources of heavy metals to look out for and avoid consuming in high doses.

Related Post: Sweet And Sour Chicken With Pineapple Recipe

1. Mercury in fish.

There are health benefits to eating seafood, but some fish contain high levels of the heavy metal mercury. Mercury should be of special concern for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, who can pass the heavy metals along to their babies.

In 2016, the Environmental Working Group performed an analysis of pregnant women who eat fish to examine their mercury exposure. They measured mercury levels in hair samples of 254 women eating fish as the U.S. government recommends for pregnant mothers. About 30 percent of women had mercury levels over the limit set by the EPA, too high for pregnant women. Using even stricter limits recommended by other experts, the researchers found that 60 percent of women had excessive mercury levels in their hair. Frequent fish eaters had 11 times more mercury than a group who rarely ate fish.

Whether you’re pregnant or not, you’ll want to avoid eating mercury-laden fish. Generally, smaller fish that are lower down on the food chain—such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel—tend to be lower in heavy metals. Larger fish such as sharks, swordfish, tuna, sea bass, halibut, and marlin tend to accumulate more mercury from the ocean over time and you should avoid it in high quantities.

2. Lead in bone broth.

Bone broth is a popular ingredient that helps to lower inflammation, nourish skin, and promote gastrointestinal health. However, when animals (and humans) need to show certain metals—particularly lead—they often store them within bone materials.

Not much research has looked into heavy metals in bone broth. A small 2013 study measured the levels of lead in a broth made from the bones of organic chickens. The broth was found to have “markedly high lead concentrations” compared to water cooked in the same cookware.

This isn’t to say you should avoid bone broth altogether, but like with anything else, consume it in moderation. I am unaware of any commercially available bone broth or collagen powder that tests for lead levels.

3. Cadmium and heavy metals in e-cigarettes.

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that can cause an increased risk of certain cancers. Cigarette smoking, in particular, is known to expose people to high levels of cadmium.

More recently, cadmium has also been identified in e-cigarettes. A 2019 study found concentrations of other heavy metals (such as lead and copper) in certain vapors produced by e-cigarettes too. Some states like California are looking to label these products as potentially carcinogenic, similar to the labeling required in Canada.

4. Arsenic in rice.

Exposure to inorganic arsenic has been linked to heart disease, kidney disease, brain disease, and diabetes. Unfortunately, rice is efficient at absorbing arsenic from pesticide-laden soil, irrigation water, and even cooking water.

Young children tend to be at a higher risk for arsenic exposure. And the FDA cautions that rice formulas should not be the only source, or even the first source, of nutrition for an infant. Barley, multigrain, and oats are good nutrition sources.

Adults buying rice can refer to this Consumer Reports resource to find grains that are less likely to contain heavy metals. So, one key takeaway: “White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. on average has half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.”

Metals and Your Food

Metals, like other naturally occurring elements, enter our food supply through our air, water, and soil. The levels found in food depend on many factors, including:

  • the levels of these elements in the air, water, and soil used to grow the crops, which vary depending on factors such as natural geographical differences and past or current contamination,
  • the type of the food crop and how much “uptake” there is of specific elements from the environment, and
  • industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural processes.
The Key to a Well-Balanced Diet

The Key to a Well-Balanced Diet is Eating a Variety of Healthy Foods

Some metals that are beneficial to health enhance their dietary benefits, such as iron. These which people intentionally add to certain foods, including breakfast cereals and infant formulas,

The properties of specific metals, the amount of intake, and a person’s age and developmental stage are all key factors that help determine how a metal affects individual health. Understanding the risk that harmful metals pose in our food supply is complicated by the fact that exposure to metals comes from many different foods. Combining all of the foods we eat, even low levels of harmful metals from individual food sources can sometimes add up to a level of concern.

To help protect the safety of the food supply, the FDA monitors, tests, and sets standards for metals in foods, animal feed, and cosmetics. When the level of metals is to be unsafe, the FDA uses its authority to take action on a case-by-case basis.

To learn more about regulatory guidelines, FDA markers, and testing companies, go to the arsenic, lead, and mercury pages, as well as the Closer to Zero website. The FDA plan of action is to actively monitor toxins in food and drinks consumed by children and newborns.

Is Your Diet Full of Heavy Metals? Here’s Why You Should Get Tested

food with metals
  • Heavy metals are everywhere. Your diet is one big source of heavy metal poisoning.
  • That’s bad news for your mitochondrial function. If you’re dealing with fatigue, autoimmune issues, thyroid problems, or adrenal issues, heavy metal toxicity may be to blame.
  • A hair mineral analysis or toxic metal test will tell you how much metal you have in your system.
  • My heavy metal detox tips include going in the sauna, taking activated coconut charcoal and glutathione supplements, and switching to low-mercury fish like sockeye salmon and trout — always wild-caught.

Bad news first: Heavy metals are everywhere. They’re in the products you use, the air you breathe, and the food you eat. These metals are toxic, and even though your body naturally eliminates them, they can build up over time and make you sick. The good news is that certain heavy metal detox protocols really work, and they can help you feel more energized, focused, and awesome. I should know — I’ve dealt with heavy metal poisoning myself.

Over a decade ago, I used to have a nice lunchtime routine of eating sushi and then doing yoga. That might sound great, but as I write in my book “Head Strong,” I noticed that my balance wasn’t very good on those days. When I skipped the sushi, my balance improved. Because I’m a biohacker, I decided to test this. I took a mercury-binding medication with the sushi, and the problem disappeared.

Why? The mercury in the sushi was messing with my mitochondria, which affected my performance. Don’t let this happen to you. Here’s what you should know about heavy metals in your food — and what you can do about it.

Heavy metals in food: Why they matter

food with metals

First, a primer on heavy metals: They occur both naturally and as a result of human activity. Some of the most common and damaging heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. You wouldn’t willingly eat metal for lunch, but some foods, like brown rice and leafy green vegetables, are higher in heavy metals than others. These food crops absorb heavy metals from the water, air, and soil as they grow.

“Everyone has some level of heavy metal in their body and they really are part of the underlying root cause of diseases,” says Wendy Myers, a functional diagnostic nutritionist, on this episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast. Some people are more sensitive than others, which means they have no problem eating mercury-packed tuna rolls all day. According to Myers, if you’re dealing with fatigue, recurrent headaches, autoimmune disease, thyroid issues, or adrenal fatigue, these problems are caused in part by heavy metals.

How does a little bit of lead cause so much damage? Heavy metals hurt your performance and make you feel like crap. They mess with thyroid and adrenal function, interfere with insulin sensitivity, and suppress your immune system. They also inhibit mitochondrial function. You might remember your middle school science teacher telling you that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. Heavy metals impair their energy production, accelerate mitochondrial death, and increase membrane permeability, which allows all the junk to pass through the cells’ protective barrier and wreck shop. 

This is a big problem because your mitochondria drive all your tissue functions. When they aren’t working at maximum capacity, you get mitochondrial dysfunction — one of the main characteristics of aging and disease. Unless you want to deal with aging-related problems like fatigue, excess fat, and brain fog, you’ll want to keep your mitochondria happy. Learn more about why mitochondria are the key to slowing down aging.

The most common foods with heavy metals

food with metals

You might not even realize how many heavy metals are in your diet, especially since small amounts of certain metals are pretty much unavoidable. For example, you probably consume between 5-10 mcg of lead daily from seafood and vegetables that foods grow in high-lead soil.

With that said, you can make conscious choices to reduce your overall heavy metal exposure. Here’s a quick overview of the most common foods that will weigh you down (because of metal — get it?):

  • Fish: Unfortunately, all fish have some level of mercury. Farmed seafood is particularly bad because it’s high in heavy metals, pesticides, toxins, pathogens, and environmental contaminants. Limit your consumption of fish that are especially high in mercury, like tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, and swordfish. Instead, eat anchovies, haddock, Petrale sole, sardines, sockeye salmon, summer flounder, tilapia, and trout, which have lower mercury levels. Always opt for wild-caught fish — it has a better nutrient profile, and it’s better for the planet. Learn more about why wild-caught seafood is the smarter choice.
  • Brown rice: Brown rice contains up to 80% more arsenic than white rice. Rice takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. Arsenic is concentrated in the thin outer layer that gives brown rice its color. Eat white rice instead — it’s an easily digestible carbohydrate with less arsenic and more flavor. Learn more about why white rice is better.
  • Leafy green vegetables: Eat your veggies — but not too much. Leafy green vegetables love cadmium, heavy metal also found in grains. Reduce your exposure by only eating organic.  Balance your diet with other vegetables in the green zone of the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap, like broccoli, olives, and zucchini.
  • Unfiltered water: About 30% of plumbing infrastructure in the U.S. contains lead piping, lead service lines, or lead plumbing components, which leach into your water. Switching to filtered water is one of the simplest ways to reduce heavy metal exposure. Learn more about tap vs. filtered water.

Heavy metal detox tips

Woman sweating

Heavy metal exposure is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean your hands are tied. You have the power to help your body detox the bad stuff, power up your mitochondria, and take your life back.

My most important tip: Test yourself before you wreck yourself. Heavy metal testing — either a provocation test with a chelation agent or a hair mineral analysis — will give you a baseline so you know exactly how much metal you have in your system. You can request these tests from a functional medicine doctor.

Here’s what you can do while you’re waiting for your results.

  • Sweat it out: Sweating helps your body get rid of toxins. Take an infrared sauna — they don’t get as hot, so you can sweat longer. (Just make sure you drink lots of fluids and take salt to replenish the electrolytes your body loses through sweat).
  • Take glutathione: This powerful antioxidant supports liver enzymes that break down heavy metals. It also supports your immune system and protects your cells.
  • Exercise: Fat tissue naturally holds onto toxins. When you burn fat, you break down fatty tissue and release those toxins. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to kick-start fat burning (and get your sweat on) — but as I say in “Head Strong,” mobilizing these toxins isn’t necessarily a good thing if your body can’t get rid of them. If you feel brain fog after your workout, take a supplement like activated charcoal. Charcoal attaches to toxins so you can more easily flush them out of your system.
  • Take chlorella: This is a type of algae that works well for detoxing from heavy metal exposure. I often take about 25 tablets when I eat sushi because it helps counteract mercury.

If you’re serious about detoxing, check out this full list of detox methods that really work to cleanse your body and brain. Toxins are a part of daily life. When I reduced my exposure to heavy metals, I felt more balanced — both mentally and physically (thanks, yoga). You don’t have to deal with chronic fatigue and brain fog. When you reduce your exposure to toxins and help your body get rid of the stuff that brings you down, you’ll feel great and perform better. Who wouldn’t want that?

Heavy Metals in Baby Food

baby spoon fed

News about heavy metals found in baby food can leave parents with a lot of questions.

Here’s some information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about the risk of toxic metal exposure to children, and how to help minimize it.

Can heavy metals in baby food harm my baby?

The low levels of heavy metals found in baby foods likely are a relatively small part of a child’s overall toxic metal exposure risk. However, exposure from all sources should be minimized. Toxic metal exposure can be harmful to the developing brain. It’s been linked with problems with learning, cognition, and behavior. But keep in mind that many genetic, social, and environmental factors influence healthy brain development, and toxic metal exposure is just one of these factors.

How do heavy metals get into foods?

Metals are found naturally in the Earth’s crust. They also are released into our environment as pollution and get into the water and soil used to grow food. Metals can also get into food from food manufacturing and packaging. Some of the most common metals that get into food, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, include inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

​How can I reduce my baby’s exposure to toxic metals?

Stronger rules and regulations for testing and limiting​ the number of heavy metals in foods for babies and toddlers are most important. But there are several steps parents can take now to reduce the risk that kids will be exposed to toxic metals in their diet, and from other sources:

  • Serve a variety of foods. Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables (wash in cool water before preparing and serving), grains, and lean protein. Eating a variety of healthy foods that are rich in essential nutrients can lower the exposure to toxic metals and other contaminants found in some foods.
  • Read the labels. Multi-ingredient baby food blends may be a good option. Be aware that many have the same first or second ingredient, though. Different flavor blends, like kale/pear and spinach/pumpkin, for example, may actually both have sweet potatoes as their first ingredient. It’s important to read the ingredients label to be sure you are offering a true variety of foods.
  • Switch up your grains. Fortified infant cereals can be a good source of nutrition for babies, but rice cereal does not need to be the first or only cereal used. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. You can include a variety of grains in your baby’s diet, including oat, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, and bulgur. Multi-grain infant cereals can be a good choice. Try to avoid using rice milk and brown rice syrup, which is sometimes used as a sweetener in processed toddler foods.
​Tips for choosing & cooking rice for your children keep in mind that, among different types of rice, brown rice tends to have the highest arsenic levels. White basmati and sushi rice tend to have lower levels. When making rice from scratch, rinse it first. Cook it in extra water and then drain off the excess when it’s done.​​
  • Check your water. Heavy metals can get into tap water: for example, arsenic can contaminate well water, and older pipes may contain lead. You can contact your local health department to have your water tested if this is a concern.
  • Breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding, rather than formula feeding, also can help reduce exposure to toxic metals. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months.
  • Avoid fruit juice. Offer toddlers and young children sliced or pureed whole fruits rather than juice. Some fruit juices can contain concerning levels of heavy metals. Plus, the juice is high in sugar and not as nutrient-rich as whole fruit. Stick with breast milk or formula for babies under 6 months old, and water​ and milk after they reach age 1.
  • Make healthy fish choices. Some types of fish can be high in a form of mercury called methylmercury, and other metals. Of most concern are large, predatory fish that eat other fish and live longer, such as shark, orange roughy, swordfish, and albacore/white tuna. Eating too much-contaminated fish can harm a child’s developing nervous system. But fish is also an excellent source of protein and other nutrients children need, and many are low in mercury. Look for better options like light tuna (solid or chunk), salmon, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
  • Consider homemade baby food. There are several benefits to making your own baby food fresh at home: it can be cost-effective, avoids potential contaminants from processing or packaging, and you can choose the ingredients. But keep in mind that offering a variety of foods is just as important when making your own baby food as when shopping for prepared baby foods.
  • Address lead hazards in your home. There are other important ways to help reduce your baby’s exposure to toxic metals. The most common source of lead exposure, for example, is from peeling or chipping paint from older homes. Soil, some cosmetics and spices, water, and certain occupations and hobbies can also be sources of exposure. Find more information about lead ​here.
  • Don’t smoke or vape. Secondhand and thirdhand​ smoke from both regular and e-cigarettes, may expose children to metals such as cadmium and lead. Vaping allows toxic metals from the vape coils to get into the air and be inhaled.  Secondhand smoke also contains harmful chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer.

​Is organic baby food better?

Organic baby foods may have lower levels of certain pesticides and other chemicals. Because heavy metals are found in the soil and can get into prepared foods from processing, however, organic foods often contain similar levels of heavy metals as non​-organic foods.​

Should my baby be tested for heavy metal​ exposure?

Until more information about metals in baby foods becomes available, experts say there’s no need to get children tested. Tests that look at a child’s hair for toxic metal exposure also are not recommended, since this type of testing is scientifically unproven and often inaccurate.

Talk with your pediatrician

If you’re concerned about heavy metals in baby food, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) has staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over environmental toxins.

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