Don’t Do Heavy Metal (Not the Music)
If you want to live a healthy life, you’ve probably heard that you should eat healthy foods, like fish.
Heck, I know I’ve told you to eat tons of fish
But when you go to the store to buy fish, you may not know that some of the fish available in a can or in the freezer at the seafood counter could be potentially harmful.
How could that be if it’s supposedly healthy?
Well, there are plenty of foods, both natural and conventionally made, that are filled with heavy metals.
Heavy metals are a group of metals with relatively high densities, atomic weights, or atomic numbers.
Now, the context for heavy metal classification varies by use. Still, when I mention them in the context of food, they are not metals like zinc, nickel, and copper…but are metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
The issue with these metals being present in food like fish is that they can become embedded in tissue. Frequent exposure can cause the amount of metal in your body to build up over time, which can have a series of negative effects on the body.
Today, I want to discuss those effects, identify which foods are likely to contain heavy metals, and, of course, provide resources for expelling heavy metals from the body.
What Will Heavy Metal Exposure Do to You?
Unlike zinc, copper, selenium, etc., which are useful for human health, heavy metals aren’t useful and can interfere with cellular function.
Ultimately, if you are exposed to too much at one time or a little over a long time, the effects of heavy metal exposure can be quite serious.
One of the major issues associated with heavy metals is what it will do to our organs.
Heavy metals are known to impair brain function and can severely limit cognition, this is true for both adults and children, but even more so for children as their brains develop (hence why they do lead testing in paint so kids aren’t exposed to it).
Heavy metals can also damage the kidneys, which is significant because impaired kidney function means we cannot purify our blood.
Not to mention what heavy metals can do to the heart. They’ve been documented to cause negative changes in blood pressure, affect cholesterol, induce oxidative stress on the heart, and produce inflammation.
Heavy metals can also harm the liver and affect its ability to detoxify the body, injuring the lungs, which may lead to respiratory problems and lung diseases.
There have been studies to show they induce gastrointestinal issues, including ulcers and impaired digestion, as well as harming the pancreas, which will affect insulin production and lead to diabetes-related issues.
All this and so much more.
Now that you understand the risks associated with heavy metals let me share some of the most likely sources of heavy metal contamination with you.
Where Are Heavy Metals Most Likely to Be Found?
The truth is there are hundreds upon thousands of sources of heavy metals.
Because heavy metals are present across the world, it’s hard to escape them.
Heavy metals are found in the air, water, and soil; thus, they are often found in food.
I’d like to tackle the sources of heavy metals found in foods commonly thought to be healthy. By that, I mean they are healthy, but if you’re not selective about the source of the food in question, there’s a chance you will develop a toxic load of heavy metals in your body.
1 - Root Vegetables:
Because root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes grow in the ground, and metals are deposited in the soil, the root vegetables you select may have more heavy metals than veggies that grow above the ground.
One problem is that buying all-natural or organic doesn't make much difference since organic farming methods also use soil and water.
So, the key here is to not rely heavily on root vegetables for all your dietary needs.
I started this article off by talking about fish (tuna in particular) and how they contain heavy metals.
The general rule of thumb is that the larger the fish, the more heavy metals they have. This is true because larger fish prey upon smaller fish, and the more they eat, the more they absorb metals (specifically mercury).
Smaller fish have mercury, but not as much, so that’s why some experts recommend eating smaller fish.
This can also be a problem. Smaller fish, like sardines, may end up having higher levels of arsenic in them.
I recommend varying the source of fish, only getting wild-caught, trying for smaller and medium-sized fish more often, and balancing your meat intake with other sources (like pork, chicken, beef, etc.).
3 - Baby Food:
This is the big one that I want to talk about.
A recent study indicated that a huge portion of the readily available baby foods on store shelves today have dangerously high levels of heavy metal.
Per Dr. Axe: “However, a national investigation in 2019 showed that toxic metals were found in 95 percent of tested baby foods, and an updated study published in 2023 found that, “while the amounts of lead, arsenic, and cadmium in baby foods appear to be getting lower, the overall risk hasn’t changed much in the past five years, according to new tests by Consumer Reports.”
The ones most likely to contain heavy metals were as follows:
- Grape juice
- Apple Juice
- Rice-based foods, including infant rice cereal, rice dishes, and rice-based snacks
- Fruit juice blend (100 percent juice)
- Cheerios and oat ring cereals
- Macaroni and cheese
- Puff snacks and teething biscuits
- Soft cereal bars
- Oatmeal cookies
- Fruit yogurt
- Sweet potato baby food
It’s not a fun list to look at and makes you wonder what a parent can do.
Avoiding rice-based snacks is probably the biggest challenge, as they are ubiquitous. Past that, just doing your best to give them real, whole foods, balance their intake across the board, and avoid juices are keys to remaining healthy on this front.
4 - Rice:
As I mentioned above about baby food, rice for adults can be problematic, too.
According to Consumer Reports, rice can have as much as ten times more arsenic than other grains.
Dr. Deane Falcone, PhD, chief scientific officer at the clean-water hydroponic vertical farming company Crop One, says this about arsenic:
“Arsenic is in a huge proportion of the global rice supply," Dr. Falcone says. "At very low levels, humans can pretty much tolerate it, but when you're very young, that's when you're most sensitive."
The good news is that brown rice is higher than white rice comparatively because the outer layer of brown rice absorbs more metal. So, if you stick to white rice, it is a bit better.
Plus, washing your rice before eating it will reduce arsenic levels by roughly 30%. Lastly, using a 6 to 1 ratio of water to rice when cooking can help reduce arsenic contamination.
In next week’s article, I’ll detail six more common sources and give you some recommendations for effectively purging heavy metal from your body.
Until then, be well.