You can be exposed to lead, a toxic metal, without even knowing it -- by inhaling lead-based dust particles, consuming food and water tainted with lead, remodeling your home or undertaking hobbies such as making stained glass and glazed pottery. Your body can store lead in your bones and release it into your blood at a later time, which can cause a second poisoning long after your initial exposure. Lead exposure affects your whole body and can cause you to have poor concentration, seizures and hearing loss. Having a healthy diet can help you protect you against these common means of exposure.
Eating enough calcium can protect you from the harmful effects of lead. You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day, and milk, low-fat cheese, yogurt, sardines and broccoli are good sources of this nutrient. You can also get calcium from foods fortified with calcium, such as breakfast cereals, orange juice and soy milk.
Having a diet rich in iron can prevent you from absorbing lead. Your body can absorb heme iron from animal sources easier than non-heme iron from plant sources. You absorb 30 percent or less of the heme iron that you consume at one time and 2 to 10 percent of non-heme iron. Lean beef, turkey, chicken, fish, shrimp and eggs are good sources of heme iron, and non-heme iron comes from spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beans and whole wheat bread. Women need 18 milligrams of iron each day.
Vitamin C doesn't directly protect you from lead poisoning, but it can help your body absorb non-heme iron. Some foods, like broccoli and spinach, are good sources of non-heme iron and vitamin C, so it is easy to consume these nutrients together. Women need 75 milligrams of vitamin C, and you can get this nutrient from oranges, strawberries, kiwis and bell pepper, among other fruits and veggies.
Consuming enough thiamine, also known as vitamin B-1, can help you remove lead from your brain and may repair brain damage caused by lead poisoning. You need to eat foods that contain thiamine every day because your body can't store this water-soluble vitamin. You can get thiamine from plant and animal sources, such as pork, whole grains, beans, nuts, enriched cereals and milk. Women need to consume 1.1 milligrams of thiamine each day.
- American Red Cross: Iron Rich Foods
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin C
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- State of New Jersey Department of Human Services: Get the Lead Out - Parent's Manual
- Lead Action News: Nutrition to Fight Lead Poisoning
- New York State Department of Health: Lead Exposure in Adults - A Guide for Health Care Providers
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B1
Kate Smith is a licensed dietitian working in New England. She holds a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and foods from West Virginia University, as well as a master’s degree in medical dietetics from Ohio State University.