How Much Lead Will You Eat This Thanksgiving?

Why it’s important to lower your exposure and how to start this week.

What do you look forward to most when Thanksgiving comes around? Whether it’s spending time with family or prepping for Black Friday shopping, we’re willing to bet that eating delicious food is high up on everyone’s list. When you think of the holiday, it’s hard not to picture a table with a golden brown turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole and too many other side dishes to list. This year, however, we’re choosing to ditch the sweet potatoes, and it’s not because we’re counting our calories – it’s to protect ourselves and our families from exposure to lead, one of the most common heavy metal contaminants in soil.

Although no amount of lead is safe for human consumption, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that heavy metals can become extremely harmful when they accumulate in large quantities in your body. For adults, lead poisoning can result in miscarriages, male infertility, hypertension and neurological problems including mood disorders, memory loss, tremors and hallucinations.

Lead poisoning in children can cause brain and nervous system damage, growth and development issues, and hearing and speech impairment. It also increases the risk for diseases such as cancer.

According to the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, lead has no biological purpose in plants, however, the contamination occurs when the roots absorb lead from the soil, which is why root vegetables like sweet potatoes may contain the highest levels of lead.

Sweet potatoes are not only a common Thanksgiving dinner side, but it’s in many baby food products, which exposes babies and toddlers to hazardous levels of lead.

Prior to 2015, environmental safety groups only had to show that a jar of baby food exceeded California’s allowable adult daily level for lead (.5 micrograms) to constitute a Proposition 65 violation. The 2015 California Court of Appeal ruling in Environmental Law Foundation v. Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. et al. changed this for the worse. It now has to be shown that eating the product over time would exceed .5 micrograms of total lead exposure every day during that time period, but as firm co-founder Vineet Dubey noted in his January 2022 Daily Journal column, this “exposure over time” is subjective.

Vineet notes that the Beech-Nut argument brushes off the health risks associated with heavy metal accumulation in the human body. While lead and other heavy metals aren’t easily metabolized at any age, babies and toddlers absorb more than adults. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that almost all ingested organic lead settles into bones and teeth and releases into soft tissue over time.

In 2021, Vineet filed two lawsuits on behalf of Ecological Alliance LLC against Nurture Inc. and Gerber for selling baby food products containing toxic levels of lead. Two of the products named in these lawsuits include Gerber’s sweet potato, carrot and pea baby food and sweet potato, apple and cinnamon baby food; both products contain twice the amount of lead allowed for adult consumption by California’s regulations.

Take a look at this clip from his appearance on Newsy to discuss the fight to get these companies to recall their products, to clean and reformulate food and to be transparent on their labels.

We know that lead cannot be entirely eliminated from the food we eat, but as the fight continues for laws that put consumer safety first, we can take steps at home to protect our families. Vineet suggests avoiding sweet potatoes altogether and to opt for certified organic food products when possible.

This Thanksgiving, instead of the usual sweet potato casserole, consider baking a butternut squash casserole instead. Made with similar ingredients, your family is sure to love this healthier option. Check out a recipe from Saving Room For Dessert below!

We hope you and your family have a safe and joyous beginning to the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

Miguel & Vineet

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