For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
Originally published: March 28, 2017
Updated: November 17, 2023
Tamara, which foods do you feed your family? What do you eat?
How do you avoid Lead in food?
People are ALWAYS asking me what foods we eat and what foods we avoid for our family! I’m going to make this short for now and add to this list as things come up in conversations! Bear in mind that — as with eye color — we have the full spectrum of variations in our little family: Two vegans, two “mostly vegetarians”, one “rabid carnivore,” one “goat” (who will eat nearly anything)!
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- We eat all organic and
- as a family we avoid most animal products (although our youngest loves meat and dairy — much to his vegan father’s consternation)!
- For eggs (when we get them) we try to go with organic, free-range, pasture-raised (yadda yadda) because chickens confined to traditional (or even the majority of so-called “cage-free”) high-density factory or commercial barn structures have a higher tendency to encounter and eat Lead paint chips, even if they are raised “organic!”
Things we try to avoid entirely:
This is our “Never“ or “Almost Never“ list. Some items are on this list because they are well-documented to be high in Lead, others are because they are naturally high in calcium and Lead bio-mimics calcium, readily absorbed and concentrated via the same natural mechanisms in the plants listed here. Some are on this list because — for other reasons (not necessarily Lead) — we have found them to be unhealthy and not optimal for our family:
- Spinach: I will rarely have spinach when going out to a restaurant, but never feed it to my children. Spinach is high in calcium and if it is grown in soil where there is any trace of Lead it may take up unsafe levels of Lead because Lead bio-mimics calcium in biological structures.
- Himalayan Pink Salt: This has been shown to have high levels of Lead by independent third party testing. To read more about the concerns for various types of salt, click here.
- Most Multi-Vitamins: We have not yet found any brands consistently demonstrated to be Lead-free by independent third party testing. This includes specifically avoiding calcium supplements for our children. To read more about my concerns for vitamins and supplements, click here.
- Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds have the same issue as spinach. In fact, Sunflowers have been used in phytoremediation experiments working to study the efficacy of intentionally using plants to remove Lead from soil. I will very rarely have sunflower seeds and don’t often feed them to my children. We avoid sunflower seed butter and instead stick with almonds, cashews, peanuts, and other tree nuts! If we (very very rarely) do have sunflower seeds, we make sure to buy organic.
- Bone Broth (not hard to avoid because we keep a vegetarian home). To read more about the concern for Lead in bone broth, click here.
- Most oils: Particularly seed oils (because of the potential for them to concentrate Lead), but also olive oil especially if it is exposed to high-heat during cooking (due to potential carcinogenic properties). Unheated high-quality olive or coconut oil used sparingly are our go-to exceptions. I also love Avocado oil, but it is very hard to find organic Avocado oil.
- Peanut butter in plastic jars: You can read more about that concern here.
Things we limit our consumption of:
- Chocolate: If you have seen my film you know that chocolate is one of the most Lead-contaminated foods available. Because it is difficult to find Lead-free sources of chocolate, we try to buy single ingredient, USA-processed cocoa paste, cocoa nibs, or cocoa powder and make our own chocolate treats.
- Bread and flour products: We limit flour products (not just wheat flour, but all flour) because our kiddos’ digestion is messed up from being Lead-poisoned and too much bread has sent Avi to the hospital many times in the past! I have speculated that when he eats flour products, his body does not know how to respond to this “pre-processed” food and his gut just seems to shut down and not bother trying to digest anything. As Avi does love bread products (and he is now almost 16 years old and is doing a good job at self-regulating what he eats), we have a strict rule that a serving of bread must be sandwiched between two servings of either fresh raw fruit or fresh raw veggies. For example, if he has an apple, then a bagel, and then that is then followed by a couple of carrots, he does not tend to have the G.I. issues otherwise associated with flour consumption.
- Refined sweeteners: When absolutely needed for some deserts, we use high quality raw organic coconut sugar or sometimes minimally processed organic agave — used sparingly — as our preferred choices. My family owns a honey farm so we sometimes also use honey. Until recently, we would also use maple syrup — however, in October of 2020 I did a deep dive into the concerns for Lead in maple syrup and specifically learned about the allowable levels of Lead in organic maple syrup and have decided to no longer purchase that for my family. You can read more about the concern for Lead in organic maple syrup at this link.
Here’s a good graph you might want to check out, from our neighbors to the north!
Click to see the full graph and search for your favorite foods alongside their Lead content!
Things we eat on a regular basis (most or all organic), AKA, our “Yes” list!:
- Organic garlic! Fresh, pickled, powdered, granules, roasted, raw – all the ways. Garlic has been shown (in scientific studies) to remove Lead from tissues in biological organisms (animals and humans) — so we try to get as much garlic into our diets as we can. The kids love it, actually. Here’s an article I wrote with more information about garlic and links to the relevant studies.
- Organic berries! Fresh, local, seasonal, organic raspberries, blackberries, marionberries, mulberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc. We started growing our own organic raspberries and blackberries so we can pick them in the summer, right from our yard — yum! We probably spend 3 or 4 times more on berries than the average American family because they are such an important staple of a healthy (vegan / vegetarian) diet for so many reasons.
- Organic cucumbers! The kids love them sliced with organic red wine vinegar and dill. Charlie likes them whole too – they are one of his favorite “go-to” snacks. We avoid balsamic vinegar because it is notoriously high in Lead.
- Organic avocados! Usually with organic red wine vinegar filling up the spot where the pit used to be, as a favorite of the kids (although I have recently converted the whole family to being fans of Avocado toast – with lots of garlic and very thinly sliced bread!)
- Organic GREENS! Romaine lettuce, collards, kale, and especially lacinato [“dinosaur”] kale are favorites [usually raw as a snack or lightly steamed with a sprinkling of homemade organic lemon-tahini sauce])! While greens can be contaminated with Lead, the key to greens consumption is: fresh, well-washed and eaten in a VARIETY (not just eating one type from one source every day.)
- Organic cherry tomatoes! Any type of tomatoes actually — Charlie loves tomatoes sprinkled with Icelandic sea salt!
- Organic celery sticks! Sometimes with peanut butter (with raisins sometimes too!), sometimes with salt, sometimes with umeboshi paste!
- Organic fresh, local corn on the cob! Also with umeboshi paste instead of butter!
- Homemade bean salads. Organic kidney beans, garbanzo beans and red wine vinegar is a favorite of our kids!
- Homemade bean soups and stews! Beans soaked overnight, soak water discarded, pressure-cooked (cooked in our Instant pot these days),
- Organic olives: Preferably packaged in glass.
- Organic peanut butter: Always packaged in glass, never packaged in plastic (read more about that here.)
- Organic Brown Rice, barley, oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth and other whole grains: (Soaked overnight, soak water discarded, then pressure-cooked).
- Organic Potatoes: Little purple Peruvians, yams, and sweet potatoes (well-washed & peeled) — they’re yummy and so much healthier! [We limit our consumption of these even with washing and peeling. We also try to buy smaller potatoes whenever possible.]
- Organic Snap peas: Our kids love these and gobble up whole bags of them … raw.
- Organic oranges, clementines, mandarins, and other tasty little orange fruits!
- Organic Kiwifruit! (The kids would eat a dozen of these every day if they could!)
- Organic Washington State apples. (We love Fuji and Honeycrisp when they are in season!)
- Bubbie’s pickles (or Portand’s own MoonBrine)!
- Organic Soymilk (Our kids’ favorite is Westsoy Organic, unsweetened plain).
- Nori seaweed! (Our kids LOVE both home-made sushi and also snacking on plain nori!) And yes, we do have concerns about heavy metals and radiation so we limit consumption and make sure kids drink lots of water, too.
- Sea palm fronds! (another favorite snacking seaweed!)
- Organic, Dairy-free, Sugar-Free Chips (though we rotate brands and flavors — always organic with no added sugar, preservatives, or artificial ingredients).
- Organic Pasta: Tinkyada’ Pasta, Joy Brown Rice pastas, and Lotus Foods’ Organic Jade Pearl Rice Ramen are favorites! As with all flour products, we try to have this very rarely, but with lots of boys, it is hard to avoid! *See flour products above. The thing about pasta is that, because it needs to be cooked/ prepared, the boys are less likely to “perpetually self-feed” (as they might with bread — lol!).
- “Real” bagels: From time to time, but we have a pretty high bar on this and my kids despise BSOs often sold at grocery stores (bagel-shaped objects!) We have a bagel shop around the corner from our house and typically buy fresh bagels 2 or 3 times a month (for breakfast on a Saturday most often!)
- Organic Nuts! Organic pistachios, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts. (Trader Joe’s has a good organic nut selection.)
- Edwards & Sons’ Instant Miso Soup (comes in convenient dry packets — just add boiling water, and sometimes a little extra tofu)!
- Organic dried various fruit and veggies (we have a food dehydrator and this saves a TON when we dehydrate tasty delights — especially things like fresh winter Shitake Mushrooms, summer fruits, and berries — for year-round availability and economy)! We significantly limit store-bought, packaged dried fruits and veggies as they are more likely to be contaminated with Lead (from processing, packaging, etc.)
- Coconut Bliss ice cream (Len and the kids like this, but I hate the stuff)!
As always, thank you for reading! Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally, as soon as I have a moment.
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Mother of Four Sons
Mother of Lead Poisoned Children