Children absorb less lead when they have a tummy full of healthy food. So a child who doesn’t eat breakfast can absorb up to seven times more lead than a child who does eat breakfast.
But don’t just make sure your children never skip breakfast. Also keep healthy snacks, like raisin toast, low fat milk, yoghurt and low fat rice snacks on hand. It’s important to maintain a diet high in fibre, iron and calcium because this helps to reduce lead absorption. Fruit, vegetables, bran-based cereals, wholegrain or wholemeal breads, and pastas are all a source of fibre.
Remember, variety is the key.
Iron and calcium in the diet can help decrease the rate of lead absorption.
It is important to include one serve (120-150 grams, or approximately the size of the palm of your hand) of lean meat every day. The iron in animal products (such as red meat, chicken and fish) is absorbed better by your body than iron in plant foods such as cereals, breads, vegetables and lentils. However it is important to eat a range of plant foods as well as meat. All iron can be absorbed better by eating foods rich in vitamin C with every meal such as leafy green vegetables and fruits.
Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, are good sources of calcium. Calcium is a particularly important nutrient for people with elevated lead levels – because a diet low in calcium can increase lead absorption. Try to eat two or three serves of dairy every day.
One serve of calcium equals one cup of milk (250ml), or one small tub of yoghurt (200g), or two slices of cheese (40g). Low fat dairy foods are recommended for children over the age of two years.
Drink plenty of water. This is vital for any healthy diet, so it’s a good idea to make water your main drink. Avoid drinking cordial, iced coffees, juice or soft drinks on a regular basis, as they’re all high in sugar. Drinking rainwater is definitely not recommended (as boiling will never remove the lead), so always drink tap water.
Never allow children to eat food when they’re on the floor or ground unless a barrier, like a clean sheet, towel or blanket, has been put down first.
Always remember to wash all fruit and vegetables before eating.
Then eat plenty of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day. Have fruit on your high fibre breakfast cereal (like rolled oats, wheat biscuits or bran), and eat an apple for morning tea.
Have fruit salad if you want dessert.
Leave the skins on fruit and vegetables whenever possible (it’s where a lot of the nutritional value is).
Always mop floors rather than sweep them, and always wet wipe tables and surfaces so as to limit dust being scattered back into the air.
Try to limit your intake of foods that are high in fat as they increase the absorption of lead. Fats come as:
Added fats. Butter, margarine, oil, cream, salad dressings and such like.
Visible fats. Found in red meat and chicken skin.
Hidden fats. Takeaway foods, full fat dairy products (like milk and cheese), nuts, cakes, biscuits, chocolates and so on.
You can limit the amount of fat in your diet by choosing low fat varieties of milk and cheese, lean meat and skinless chicken or fish. Always trim any visible fat or skin from meat and chicken and, instead of frying food, try steaming, grilling or microwaving it. And steer clear of deep-fried and takeaway foods, as well as heavily processed meats and smallgoods like fritz or salami.
Lead can be found on children’s hands, so be sure to wash and dry them regularly. The amount of lead contamination on children’s hands has been directly linked to their blood lead level, so washing them frequently, especially before mealtimes, can greatly reduce exposure.
It’s also important to wash and dry your own hands before preparing food, eating and drinking. And after you’ve been cleaning the house or working in the garden, it’s best to wash and dry your hands before touching or playing with your children.
Make sure that outdoor footwear is left outside.
Washing and brushing pets outside on a regular basis minimises the amount of dust that comes into your home. Also wash and dry children’s hands after they’ve been playing with pets.
The amount of lead particles on children’s hands has been directly linked to their blood lead level, so it’s important to wash and dry them regularly and thoroughly.
Toys that are left outside can quickly gather dust, and that dust, of course, can contain lead, so always wipe down toys with a damp cloth, or hose them down before use.