Nutrition to Help Prevent Lead Poisoning

by Maria Askew

The internet is full of advice as to what to feed your children to help protect them from lead.  The bottom line is that a balanced diet rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C will help reduce the amount of lead that is absorbed.  Of course, this does not substitute for steering clear of known lead exposures, but unfortunately lead is everywhere in various degrees, and a balanced diet rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C helps to reduce the amount of lead that the body retains.  It adds another layer of protection.

2017 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: Fast Food. Lead-Safety Message:
Watch out what you consume. Aim at lead free, healthy diet. Artist: Mark Ju,
aged 11. https://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/Fast food/

Why is this the case?

Lead mimics iron and calcium and can bind to their receptor sites.  The problem is that lead can’t carry out the same functions that iron and calcium normally would, which can affect various organs and physiological processes.  Ensuring enough iron and calcium means that there is less competition with lead for these binding sites, so less lead gets retained by the body.

Breakfast might very well be the most important meal of the day.

When the stomach is empty, more lead gets absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract because there is nothing to compete with the lead.  Mornings are particularly vulnerable times because the body has been fasting since dinner the night before.  Providing a balanced diet that includes breakfast is important.


What are examples of food sources of iron, calcium, and vitamin C?


  • Red Meat
  • Tofu
  • Dried Fruit (e.g., apricots, raisins)
  • Fish
  • Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils)
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Poultry
  • Iron-fortified Cereals (e.g., Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal)
  • Blackstrap Molasses

*A note about heme versus non-heme iron:  Iron in heme iron form comes from meat, poultry, and fish.  Non-heme iron is found in both plant-derived and animal-derived foods.  About 25% of heme iron and 17% of non-heme iron is absorbed.  Eating foods with vitamin C at the same time of consuming foods containing non-heme iron helps to increase non-heme iron absorption.


  • Milk & Milk Products
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds
  • Calcium-Fortified Soy Milk & Juices
  • Bok Choy
  • Blackstrap Molasses
  • Tofu (some kinds, check label)
  • Figs

Calcium: This nutrient has many sources. Back row: Chinese cabbage, yogurt, milk, cheese, aniseed seeds (fennel), bokchoi. Middle row: seeds (poppy, sesame), tofu and coriander. Front row: Fish (sardines, salmon anchovy), dill, kale, broccoli. Not pictured: Chinese spinach (amaranth), mustard greens. Photo by Catherine Sweeny. Photo of foods containing Calcium.


Vitamin C:

  • Citrus Fruits
  • Bell Peppers
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi

Should I add supplements?

Calcium and vitamin C supplementation is typically not necessary as long as a balanced diet containing these nutrients is consumed. As far as iron supplements go, whether or not this is necessary depends on various factors, and thus it’s best to discuss this with your healthcare provider, especially because iron can be toxic if too much is taken.


Goyer, R. (1995). Nutrition and metal toxicity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61(3), 6465-6505.

Lowry, J. (2016). Childhood lead poisoning: Management. In D. Mahoney, M. Burns, & J. Drutz (Eds.), UpToDate. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Nutrition and lead             poisoning prevention. In Division of Public Health. Retrieved from https://dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/Pages/LeadNutrition.aspx

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). Learn about lead. In Lead. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead

Whitney, E., & Rolfe, S. (2011). Understanding nutrition. Belmont, CA; Wadsworth.

Wiemann, M., Schirrmacher, K., & Busselberg, D. (1999). Interference of lead with the calcium release activated calcium flux of osteoblast-like cells. Calcified Tissue International, 65, 479-485.