The recent controversy surrounding India’s favorite ‘two-minute’ snack has brought much needed awareness on the harmful effects of lead poisoning. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. Lead is a neurotoxin that can affect any organ in the human body. It can impair cognitive development in children and cause a range of other health issues in adults. But Maggi MAY not be the only food item to contain high levels of lead. Our favorite vegetables contain them at risky levels.
Long before the current discussion on lead poisoning, a study conducted by ESCI Hospital and KPC Medical College, Kolkata found concentrations of lead in selected vegetables grown and marketed along a major highway in Kolkata. Results from the study revealed that the amount of lead appears to be greater in places with dense vehicle traffic.
In India, we still prefer to buy our fruits and vegetables from open markets which are densely populated with industrial surroundings or traffic congested roads. In other words, these areas are contaminated with heavy atmospheric lead concentration. Urban vegetable markets offer a great source of affordable nutrition for city dwellers, but high levels of lead can pose a serious health risk for people who consume these vegetables. Hence it’s important to know the health risk associated with each of these vegetables before we purchase our favorite veggies from urban vegetable markets:
Level of Lead Concentration in India’s Most Popular Vegetables (Worst to Best)
1. Cabbage & Cauliflower (WORST)
Cabbage and cauliflower are ranked among the healthiest vegetables as they are rich in nutrients and provide health-promoting compounds not found in most of the other vegetables. However, the study revealed the lead content to be almost FOUR times the maximum allowable limit in these vegetables.
2. Root Vegetables (Carrot, Radish, Beetroot)
Root vegetables such as carrots and beets are popular among dietitians around the world because of their good nutrient content. However, root vegetables may also have the highest lead concentration as these vegetables absorb lead in contaminated soil through their root systems. Among all the vegetables studied in the research, the highest amount of lead was found in carrots, followed by radish and beetroot. The maximum allowable limit of lead exceeded by THREE times in these vegetables. Perhaps these vegetables are best avoided in urban market places.
The health benefits of leafy greens, especially spinach, are known to everyone. Not only are they rich in fiber and vitamins, they also help in lowering cholesterol levels. But spinach may also have high amount of lead concentration. According to the study, the maximum allowable limit of lead was exceeded by TWO times. So the next time you’re shopping at a highly polluted market place, avoid these leafy greens.
4. Tomato, Chilly and Ladies finger ( BEST)
These Vitamin C rich vegetables are favorite among the Indians and are included in several of our top recipes. The study revealed these vegetables to have low levels of lead, suggesting a resistance towards lead accumulation. Hence it’s relatively safer to buy these vegetables from the urban vegetable markets.
Lead has been identified as one of the ten chemicals of major public health concern by World Health Organization and guidelines are being developed to prevent lead poisoning. The Maggi controversy and the subsequent social media outburst has increased awareness of the harmful effects of lead on our body. At present, there is a need to examine other food stuff for this harmful chemical as well. Soil in major cities is going to be tainted by the surrounding environment. That doesn’t mean we should stop eating vegetables being sold in these areas. However, we need to be smarter consumers and seek out sources of these vegetables to make smarter buying decisions