Eat healthy to prevent lead poisoning

A diet that includes calcium, iron and vitamin C can protect the body from lead poisoning.

There is a public health crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan and it is having a negative effect on the city’s youngest residents. Lead has entered the city’s water system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.” The dangers associated with lead poisoning in children include behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and kidney damage. Lead is an element that can be found throughout our environment – in the air, soil, and water, as well as in our homes and other buildings. When lead is ingested it can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Children under the age of six are particularly susceptible.

Michigan State University Extension is working with city, county and state officials to address this serious and complex issue. There are steps that parents and other adults who care for young children can take to help ease the negative effects of lead poisoning in the city’s youth. Food actually helps keep the body from absorbing lead, so feeding children four to six small meals daily is recommended. Foods that contain calcium, iron and vitamin C will help protect children’s bodies from lead poisoning. Too much iron can be a problem, so it’s best to talk with your pediatrician about the right amount for your child.

Foods that contain calcium include milk, yogurt, and cheese as well as leafy green vegetables. Examples of leafy green vegetables include spinach, kale, collard greens and Swiss chard. In addition to reducing lead absorption, calcium helps teeth and bones strong.

Vitamin C can be found in oranges and grapefruit as well as orange and grapefruit juice, tomatoes, tomato juice and green peppers. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. The two team up to reduce lead absorption.

Iron-rich foods include lean red meats, fish, chicken, iron-fortified cereals and dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes. Normal iron levels help protect a child’s body from the harmful effects of lead.

Lead poisoning can happen in any community, and it can be a risk through sources other than the water system. You can learn more from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you feel your child has been exposed to lead you can ask that he or she be tested at your pediatrician’s office. You can also contact your county health department for information about lead. Michigan State University Extension provides classes on how to eat healthy. Contact us to find a class near you. 

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