Heavy Metals in Organic Food and How they Differ From Regular Pollutants

To be able to have a discussion on organic fruits and vegetables, it’s important to first define the term ‘organic’.

Pictured: Spraying pesticides

Organic produce refers to fruits and vegetables grown without the help of unnatural ingredients like pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, or ionizing radiation.

And while this definition makes it seem as though organic fruits and veggies are free from contamination, this is far from the truth.

Heavy Metals in Food

Soil contains trace elements of a variety of metals, including lead, arsenic, tungsten, cadmium, zinc, and copper. These metals form a part of the Earth’s crust and are absorbed by plants that draw nutrients from the soil.

While trace metals are found most densely in root vegetables and rice, all crops absorb small amounts of these metals while growing. Absorbed in it’s organic form, these metals can be removed by the human body through various processes. However, it’s important to minimize our intake of such metals as our body has a limited capacity to remove them and can only manage small amounts at a certain time.

Pollutants vs. Heavy Metals

Processed foods contain much smaller quantities of heavy metals as these are removed during manufacturing. However, this sort of processing also removes beneficial minerals, vitamins, and enzymes, making the food devoid of nutrition. For example, soda and bacon have less heavy metals than an organic apple… but don’t let that trick you! An apple is most definitely the healthier option.

Both organic and conventional fruits and veggies contain trace amounts of heavy metals based on the soil they are grown in.

But pollutants, on the other hand, are found primarily in inorganic foods. What’s the difference?

1. Pollutants come primarily from man-made sources; heavy metals can be naturally occurring. 

Certain methods of organic cultivation trap trace quantities of heavy metals in the soil, which are then absorbed by subsequent fruits and veggies planted in the same soil. But for the most part, heavy metals are absorbed by plants from the soil, air, and water.

Pollutants, like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, are used in the cultivation of inorganic fruits and vegetables. These are sprayed or applied on plants by the farmers or machines that tend to the crops. These plants absorb the heavy metals present in the environment along with all the pollutants applied to them.

2. It’s More Likely That Food Will be Tested for the Presence of Heavy Metals 

Certified organic food suppliers are aware that consumers want fruits and veggies that are free from an excess quantity of heavy metals. While organic greens do contain trace amounts of metals from the earth, the top suppliers test for dangerous quantities to ensure that their produce is safe for consumption. For example, we test our Chocolate Magic protein for heavy metals since all of our ingredients are organic and grown in nutrient-rich soil.

Most food labels today don’t show quantity of metals or pollutants

Inorganic food, on the other hand, should be tested for the presence of both pesticides and heavy metals. In most cases, however, this is is ignored as suppliers know that consumers are aware that their food contains pesticides. And if consumers know that what they’re buying contains pesticides, why bother telling them the quantity?

As a result, far less products highlight the quantity of any given pesticide contained in them.

3. Pollutants Are More Easily Absorbed

Plants absorb synthetic pesticides and fertilizers easily, and the residues can be found long after the food has been harvested, processed, and bundled away.

Fruits and vegetables on the exterior portion of the plant are more exposed to these pesticides and are likely to absorb far larger quantities than those on the interior. In some cases, the pesticides enter the plant itself and corrupt the flesh throughout.

Organic produce, on the other hand, is not exposed to any of the harmful pesticides used to grow conventional food. All the heavy metals present in it are absorbed from the soil and air and hence can be mitigated to a certain extent.

For example, acidic soil is known to contain high levels of cadmium which seeps into crops. This problem can be mitigated by growing organic fruits and veggies in soil which is more alkaline.

4. Heavy Metals Are Found in Both Types of Food While Pollutants Are Not

Heavy metals are found in both types of produce (conventional and organic) while pollutants, like fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs can only be found in crops obtained through conventional farming. Organic fruits and vegetables are free from these extra pollutants.

What Do We Do?

As mentioned earlier, the human body is capable of flushing out the excess heavy metal stored in small pockets in our systems. We only suffer when our intake exceeds our body’s capacity to get rid of these heavy metals.

The WHO, FDA, and EU have set strict guidelines for the recommended daily intake of certain heavy metals like lead, arsenic, tungsten, and cadmium. Unfortunately, there are ways around these guidelines which is why there are thousands of health products on the market that contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals and pollutants.

Heavy metal testing

It’s important to buy fruits and veggies from organic suppliers who test every batch of their produce to ensure that it’s free from heavy metals or at least far below the recommended daily average. Also, make sure to buy products from brands that 3rd party test for heavy metals and pollutants!

The presence of metal in organic foods is quite natural, and with a little bit of research and the right organic food suppliers, you can eliminate any threat to your health and continue living the organic lifestyle.