Skip to main content
Heavy Metal Hype: The Raw Facts

Heavy Metal Hype: The Raw Facts

Jun 19th 2010

Recently there’s been news and media hype about heavy metal content in natural foods. We’d like to take this opportunity to bring to light some facts about heavy metals that are often misunderstood, ignored, or altogether unknown. Whether intentional or not, news about heavy metal content is often scary, portraying dangerous, toxic chemicals that are unfit for human consumption. Often these tactics are used to persuade consumers in a specific purchase direction. Our goal here is just to lay out a few overlooked facts and invite you to make up your mind for yourself.

Quick Facts (click or scroll down to view):
Maximum Lead Levels in Common Foods
Daily Lead Standards
Maximum Cadmium Levels in Common Foods

Fact #1:
Heavy Metals Occur Naturally and Many Are Beneficial

According to Dr. Jameth Sheridan, Doctor of Holistic Medicine and hard-core alternative medicine researcher for 30 years, it is crucial to understand that “heavy metal minerals are present virtually everywhere on Earth…[including] all whole foods.”1 Heavy metals naturally occur in soil and are absorbed by plants that end up on our dinner plate.

Take lead, for example, one of the most notoriously “toxic” heavy metals. According to researchers at University of California, Davis, “lead occurs in low levels in all soils [italics added for emphasis]” though “plants do not readily absorb large amounts of lead.”2 This means you will find lead in virtually all crops grown in soil, albeit in low, organically bound, non-toxic levels. More on that below.

It is important to also remember that many metal minerals are essential to your health. For example, iron is “a key element in the metabolism of almost all living organisms.”3 Zinc is “an essential mineral needed for catalytic, structural, and regulatory functions in the body.”3  Copper is known to “regulate various physiologic pathways, such as energy production, iron metabolism, connective tissue maturation, and neurotransmission.”3 The list goes on.

Fact #2
Toxicity Is Affected by Whether Heavy Metals Are Organic or Inorganic

There is a big difference between an organically bound mineral (as it occurs in food), and an inorganic, isolated mineral. Inorganic, isolated minerals, such as those found in industrial materials, gasoline, water and some supplements, are indeed toxic. But “minerals (heavy or not) that are organically-bound in a food matrix are non-toxic.”1

You can’t simply label a heavy metal as toxic because “it is the quantity and form (inorganic and organic) of these heavy metals that makes all the difference.”1

For example, iron found in whole foods (organically-bound) is an essential nutrient, while ingesting inorganic iron that comes from cookware and pipes, as well as “drinking water, supplements and animal products”1 can be deadly.

Even the FDA recognizes this contrast with heavy metals, stating, “there are two general types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless.”4

Fact #3
Multiple Factors Affect Heavy Metal Absorption

Whether the food is grown organically or conventionally (using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides) plays a significant role in heavy metal absorption. Dr. Sheridan explains:  “Organically grown foods absorb far more minerals (including heavy metal minerals) from the soil than conventionally grown crops that have been sprayed with pesticides. Pesticides destroy the soil-based microbes that are required to convert the inorganic minerals in the soil into forms that the plants can absorb...This means that, given a certain level of soil mineral density, organically grown crops will absorb far more of all minerals than conventionally grown crops.”

This means organic foods inherently absorb more minerals (which is part of what makes them so healthful), but these minerals are organically incorporated into the whole food and non-toxic.

There are many other factors that affect foods’ levels of metal mineral absorption. According to researchers at University of California, Davis, the amount of lead that plants absorb “depends on the species and variety of plant, the chemical composition of the soil, the amount of lead in the soil, and the soil temperature.”2

The fact is that foods come from different farms all over the world. The soil in one location can have varying levels of naturally occurring heavy metals when compared to another. Therefore, there can be significant disparities in heavy metal content from one type of food to another and one harvest to the next, even when the metals are organic and naturally occurring.

Fact #4
Heavy Metal Content in Everyday Foods is Much Higher Than in Sunfood Products

The FDA has determined safe levels for heavy metals, and we have found that heavy metal levels in Sunfood products are much lower than many common healthy foods that you may eat every day. This doesn’t mean the food you eat is unsafe, just that heavy metals are more prevalent than you may have thought, and much less regulated than in the natural foods industry.

Scroll down to see the facts on heavy metal content in common foods versus Sunfood products.

At Sunfood, it is always our top priority to find the highest quality products from around the world and ensure that they are all tested for contamination, including heavy metals.

In Closing

It is understandable to be alarmed when there’s a media frenzy telling you that the foods you’ve been eating in order to benefit your health are actually dangerous and even poisonous. Do not be misled by fear tactics that are targeted to influence your buying habits. We encourage you to explore the facts stated here for yourself, research on your own, and let us know what you think at 888-RAW-FOOD or Your thoughts and questions are welcome, and your trust in our company means the world to us.  

Maximum Lead Levels in Common Foods

Daily Lead Standards

Maximum Cadmium Levels in Common Foods

1 - Dr. Jameth Sheridan, Doctor of Holistic Medicine and hard-core alternative medicine researcher for 30 years
2 - “Home Gardens and Lead: What You Should Know about Growing Plants in Lead-Contaminated Soil.” Craigmill, A. University of California Cooperative Extension Environmental Toxicology Specialist, UC Davis. Publication 8424, Sep 2010.
3 - Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center.
4 - “Questions & Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, July 15, 2013.