Lead in Our Food? Now, THAT is a Heavy Meal!

The heavy metal lead is naturally found in the earth; in rocks, soil, rivers, lakes, seawater, and even the air (dust). It has no taste or smell. It is the heaviest of all non-radioactive metals. It is found in virtually everything you eat, drink, and breathe. During the Twentieth Century the earth became “coated” in a layer of lead due to the mining and burning of fossil fuels and combustion of leaded gasoline. Fortunately, over the last 30 years efforts to reduce lead contamination have accelerated. In a perfect world we would not be exposed to lead at all, as there is no use for lead by the human body. High lead exposure may lead to neurological damage and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. We have “soiled our nest.” However, we are able to limit our exposure to lead, despite a baseline level that will always exist. And, even though there will always be lead in our food, water, and air, it does not have to be toxic levels. Our food and water are safe for consumption. There are dangerous, life-threatening aspects to our food and beverages with which we should be more concerned than the current levels of lead.

High-glycemic foods (simple sugars, low to no fiber), trans fats, and a depletion of nutrients from our diets are much more concerning than the amount of lead in our food today, and have caused, and continue to cause more death and disease than lead ever has or ever will. Obesity, atherosclerosis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are result of high-glycemic foods and trans fat. Ironically, the high-glycemic processed foods contain LESS lead than the complex carbohydrates and food made with whole grains. We all know it is important to focus on a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and we should continue to focus on these foods. The reason the healthier, whole grain foods contain more lead than the processed foods is because the plants pull out minerals, including lead, from the soil. And, the whole grains, with relatively shallow root systems, take up the lead that is found in the top few inches of the soil. The more unprocessed the food (i.e., whole grains), the more lead it may contain. However, the lead levels are usually far from toxic!

In no way am I saying that lead is safe, or not a health concern. It obviously is. However, due to the clean up effort in the U.S. and other progressive countries the amount of lead contamination has dropped, and the amount of lead contained within our food, beverages, and water has declined to levels not associated with death or disease.

Another major source of lead is cigarette smoking. Five hundred micrograms of lead is obtained with each inhalation of cigarettes, and 1000 micrograms of lead is contained in just one pack of cigarettes. Most of the lead that is inhaled during smoking is immediately exhaled, but a concerning amount is obviously getting absorbed through the lungs. A smoker may be absorbing more lead each day from smoking than all of their food and drink sources combined. Despite the lead exposure from smoking, much more death and disease comes about through all the other toxins in cigarette smoke (that cause oxidative damage) than from lead toxicity. russian store

For over 2500 years humans have worked with lead. Utensils, cups, plates, and pottery have all historically been made out of, or included lead. We now know this is dangerous. Old china, cookware, and pottery were glazed with lead, that provided a unique luster. However, food that sits on such cookware will absorb lead. The longer food is in contact with these lead-containing objects the more lead that gets into the food. Heating the food in lead-containing cookware will increase lead absorption. Therefore, beware of what cookware and plates are used to heat up and eat food.

The real contamination of our planet came during the 20th Century. From 1920 to 2000, over 300 million tons of lead was mined and distributed throughout our environment. It was distributed throughout the atmosphere via combustion of leaded gasoline, burning of fossil fuels (coal), burning rubber, metal (brass and steel) factories, lead paint, manufacturing and improper disposal of batteries, lead plumbing through which our drinking water flows, lead in the solder used in making the seams holding our cans of food, …and as mentioned, our cookware, pottery, and glassware.

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