Worried About Heavy Metals in Your Food? Here’s What You Need to Know.

There’s been growing concern among health experts and the general public about the presence of heavy metals in our food supply. However, even though you may have heard about the dangers of heavy metals in your food, you may still not know how they work in the body and when/ why you should be concerned.

There have been increasing incidences of heavy metals being discovered in our food supply. Consumer Reports recently tested a wide variety of top brands and found the presence of heavy metals in almost every single product, and worrisome amounts in some. You can read the full report here. But even this detailed outline raises some important questions.

What is the definition of a heavy metal? What qualifies as a ‘worrisome’ amount? Where do these metals comes from, and what kinds are in our food? Some of the answers may surprise you.

What is the definition of a heavy metal?

There is no textbook definition of a heavy metal, but usually they are characterized by a high density, and are grouped with other similarly dense metals in the periodic table of the elements. This density is what makes them ‘heavy’. When referring to food source contamination, the term can also be used to describe metals that are toxic, though some of these are biologically necessary for our bodies to function (yet dangerous in large amounts).

These metals generally include: arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, copper, zinc, nickel, selenium, silver, antimony, manganese, and a few others. The Food and Drug Administration only has safety level requirements for a few of these metals- arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, because these are the ones most commonly found in foods.

How do heavy metals affect the body?

While small amounts of some heavy metals are needed for normal biological functions, excess amounts can build up in our body tissue, blood, and bones, causing poisoning. Certain metals can cause free radicals to develop that cause damage to cellular structures and DNA. This can inhibit normal bodily functions such as enzyme production, which often manifests as neurological or gastrointestinal issues. While severe heavy metal poisoning is relatively uncommon, excess amounts can cause both acute and chronic health issues.

Causes and Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning

Heavy metal poisoning can be caused by a variety of things in addition to food, including industrial exposure, environmental pollution, medicines, improperly coated cookware, and ingestion of lead-based paints and compounds.

Symptoms of acute exposure can include, but are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, numbness, or falling into a coma. Long-term exposure to heavy metals in unsafe amounts can cause chronic headaches, muscle pain, tiredness, weakness, joint pain, and gastrointestinal issues.

What are Safe vs. Unsafe Levels of Heavy Metals in Food?

It can be difficult to determine how much of any given metal is toxic, but the FDA has guidelines set in place for food- for example, arsenic levels should not exceed 100 parts per billion to be considered safe, while mercury becomes dangerous at 1 part per million. Unfortunately, the FDA only spot-checks foods for heavy metal contamination, and doesn’t require testing on most finished goods and raw ingredients. It can be fairly hard to tell which brands are actually risky.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The safest way you can protect yourself is to avoid exposure, or only choose to consume high-risk products from brands that test their products for heavy metals. For example, rice is a notorious high-risk culprit because it readily absorbs arsenic from the soil. Many protein powders on the market are also at risk for contamination, and lesser quality brands often cut costs by forgoing heavy metals testing, or purchasing inferior quality ingredients produced under questionable conditions. BN Labs diligently checks every batch of our product for safety and insists on using the cleanest, highest quality ingredients available.

If you are concerned about the purity of your food, you can always ask the company to provide a COA (Certificate of Analysis) performed by a third party laboratory that includes heavy metal testing. It should look something like this (this is info for our Grass-Fed Whey):

The bottom line is that heavy metal poisoning is fairly uncommon, but there are steps you can take to prevent it. Hopefully this gave you some heavy-metal-free food for thought.

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