The number of children with elevated lead levels decreased from nearly 8 percent to 1 percent of children tested, according to CDC surveillance data collected between 1999 and 2009. For those children with elevated lead levels – often minorities and children from low-income families – lead poisoning can impact nearly every bodily system, but is especially harmful to the neurological system and brain. Between 40 and 50 percent of lead absorption in children occurs in the digestive system. For this reason, dietary interventions are commonly used to decrease and prevent lead positioning in at-risk children.
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Iron and lead compete for absorption in the digestive system. A child who consumes iron-rich foods several times a day will absorb less lead. Iron-rich foods include red meats; chicken, especially dark meat; iron-fortified cereals; prunes; raisins; and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach. A physician might recommend an iron supplement or children’s multivitamin with iron, as iron deficiency anemia is common in children with elevated lead levels.
Calcium, like iron, can inhibit lead absorption. The most calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, and canned salmon with bones. Work toward four servings of calcium-rich foods a day, evenly distributed throughout the day. For recommended serving sizes based on your child’s age, visit USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.
Vitamin C allows iron to absorb more effectively, thus boosting the usefulness of iron-rich foods for lead poisoning prevention. The best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, fruit juices and berries.
Lead is absorbed more easily on an empty stomach. Switch to four or five smaller meals a day and add two to three snacks to your child’s diet to decrease the amount of time the stomach remains empty. Because serving sizes and calorie levels vary based on age, visit USDA’s ChooseMyPlate for specific feeding recommendations.
Fat actually promotes the storage of lead in bodily tissues, so it’s especially important for children ages 2 to 6 who might be exposed to lead to limit fat. This can be as simple as switching to skim or 1 percent dairy products, baking or grilling meats instead of frying, and choosing products that contain less than 5 grams of fat per serving.