Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Exposure to lead is a concern in many urban areas and caution is advised, especially for children who have access to toys with lead-based paint or individuals who live in older homes. In some instances, lead can leach from the main water pipes and into the household water supply. If exposed to lead, eating a healthy diet can help reduce its absorption by the body.
What Are the Dangers of Lead?
When lead is consumed, research shows it can cause learning and behavior problems as it accumulates in the body. It can cause lasting problems with growth and development. Infants and children are at a higher risk because they absorb lead more quickly than adults and they are more likely to put non-food items that might contain lead in their mouth.
How to Avoid Lead
Lead is most likely to be consumed as lead-based paint in and outside the home — peels, chips, dust from sanding or cracks. Lead ends up being consumed because it is on toys or other surfaces that kids put in their mouth. When lead is present in the water system, it can become more difficult to avoid. To minimize exposure to lead:
- Always wash your hands and ensure children wash their hands with uncontaminated water before eating.
- Do not use imported pottery or leaded crystal to store or serve food.
- Use a National Sanitation Foundation NSF-certified filter on your faucet for drinking water, food preparation, and cooking, and be sure to change the filter cartridge by the date printed on the package.
- If a filter or bottled water are unavailable, eliminate lead in tap water by using only cold tap water that has been thoroughly flushed from the pipes. Let the water run for 1 minute before using. Remember: Boiling water will not reduce the presence of lead.
- Regularly clean toys, pacifiers, floors, windowsills, and other surfaces using liquid cleaners that control dust.
- Wipe or remove shoes before entering your home.
- Get your home tested for lead if it was built before 1978.
- All children ages 1 and older should be tested for lead levels.
Eat a Healthy Diet to Help Decrease Lead Absorption
- Eat small, healthy mini-meals throughout the day.
- Follow the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.
- When there is healthy food in the body, it is more difficult for lead to be absorbed.
- Make sure your diet is rich in important nutrients such as calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
Take these small steps so that healthy food nutrients are absorbed before lead has that opportunity. A healthy diet improves health and also helps to prevent high lead levels in kids and adults.