Check Your Pantry: Heavy metals found in common herbs and spices

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spoons lined up with different spices

What would you like your chicken seasoned with: lead, arsenic or cadmium? We know your answer would include none of those toxic heavy metals, but some common spices you’ll find in your pantry contain traces of all three, according to a study by Consumer Reports (CR) researchers.

The study included 15 types of spices including black pepper, cumin, ginger powder, oregano and paprika across 126 products from popular seasoning brands such as McCormick, La Flor, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Great Value. Out of all of them, they found that 40 contained high enough levels of heavy metals to negatively affect both children and adults.

These metals are difficult for our bodies to break down and take more time to get rid of, which subsequently leads to build up. Depending on the type, heavy metal poisoning in children can affect their ability to learn and increase risk for behavioral problems. For adults, it can lead to reproductive problems and damage kidney and immune function, amongst other health risks.

When consuming just ¾ teaspoon a day of these spices is concerning to researchers, taking the steps to be more conscious of what spices you’re using is crucial to protect you and your family’s health.

Since these products aren’t specifically labeled as “lead-free” and the study didn’t find that one brand was better or worse than another, be sure to check the CR chart and take close inventory of your spices. If any of your spices are marked as concerning, throw it away, take note of which brand is safer and add it to your grocery list.

Another option is to grow and dry your own spices in lead-free soil, which can turn out to be a fun family project or a new hobby. Either way, it’s an important step you can take to limit exposure to toxic metals.

CR notes that while the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the safety of herbs and spices, the limited amount of testing has been focused on catching harmful bacteria, not heavy metals. Because of this, they have started a petition asking the FDA for stricter limits on heavy metals in our food.

Keep in mind that spices aren’t the only potential source of heavy metal exposure, so it’s important to keep up to date on food safety news. Last year, Custodio & Dubey co-founder and environmental attorney Vineet Dubey filed several lawsuits against companies such as Gerber and Trader Joe’s for selling baby food, salads and other food products that contain toxic levels of lead and other metals.

If you believe that you or your child has been exposed to lead or other heavy metals, consider speaking with a healthcare provider.

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