How to Avoid Heavy Metal Contamination in Spices (Part 2)

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How to Avoid Heavy Metal Contamination in Spices (Part 2) | Real Food RN

This is part two in a two-part series on the topic of heavy metals in spices. You can find part one HERE.

Are you putting your health at risk by using spices in your cooking? Spices are great for adding zest and flavor to your food and provide a healthy alternative to salt, sugar, and calorie-heavy sauces or dressings. But if you’re not careful, you could unwittingly be poisoning yourself and your loved ones!

There is increasing evidence that a number of everyday spices imported from overseas contain worrying amounts of heavy metals, pathogens, and bacteria. Heavy metals like lead, iron, arsenic, and copper can build up in the body over time and cause serious health problems that can turn fatal.

Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems or chronic health issues are most vulnerable to heavy metal poisoning from foods. Their bodies are more susceptible to the effects, and their systems have a harder time metabolizing toxins. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at increased risk.

Of particular concern is the high amount of lead in spices that shows up in regular testing by the Food and Drug Administration and in scientific research studies. There is no safe level of lead for humans. Lead can affect your brain, resulting in poor cognitive function, memory and concentration problems, and reduced IQ in children. Lead contamination can also bring about heart and blood pressure problems, infertility, and muscle and joint pain.

Are Some Spices Riskier Than Others?

The most commonly-contaminated spices include pantry basics like black pepper, oregano, turmeric, curry powder, paprika, and chili powder. While there is some evidence of deliberate adulteration of spices overseas, contamination can also occur when plants have been grown in soil irrigated with industrial wastewater or when the spice is processed using rusty equipment. The main spice-growing areas of India and East Asia are also some of the most polluted and least regulated.

The good news is that some spices are safer than others. Spices that contain natural antioxidants like cinnamon and ginger are less likely to be contaminated.

How to Avoid Heavy Metal Contamination in Spices

Is there a way you can safely enjoy spices in your food? Yes! You don’t have to give up your turmeric latte or curry. All you have to do is make some common-sense changes to the way you buy and use spices and adjust your lifestyle to help your body detox.

Minimize Your Exposure

  • Avoid buying spices in bulk where products are displayed in open containers, bins or sacks, such as organic and health food shops or outdoor farmers’ markets. Unsealed packaging dramatically increases the risk of contamination, not just with heavy metals but with pathogens, bacteria, molds, and adulterants.
  • Buy spices in sealed, packaged containers only from trusted sources.
  • Don’t buy spices online or while traveling overseas.
  • Try alternatives to dried powdered spices. Buy, fresh cilantro, oregano, curry leaves, turmeric, and ginger root instead of powdered. Use lemon and lime to add extra zing to your food and juices.
  • Grow your own organic spices in a kitchen garden.
  • Moderate your spice intake. Maybe drink a peppermint tea instead of another turmeric latte.
  • Cook your spiced food well. Scientists recommend cooking spiced food to at least 160 degrees to eliminate bacterial contamination. Avoid sprinkling unheated oregano or pepper on your food.
  • Be aware. Be an informed consumer and keep an eye out for alerts from the FDA and for product recalls. Ask your spice supplier where their stock comes from, and whether it is purchased from overseas.
  • If you feel you may have been exposed to potentially contaminated spices (maybe you consume a lot of turmeric or buy in bulk from organic stores or farmer’s markets where spices are stored in open containers) it is probably good for your peace of mind to see your health practitioner to get tested for heavy metal poisoning.


In our modern world, we are all likely to have some degree of heavy metal accumulation in the body. We are exposed to heavy metals in our food, water, and air. Your body has a system for processing and eliminating toxins through the liver, kidneys, gut, and skin, but it’s likely to be overworked and simply not able to cope with modern toxin loads. 

You can minimize the effects on your body by making some basic lifestyle changes.

  • Drink lots of filtered water.
  • Eat fresh foods, emphasizing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods rich in vitamin C, leafy greens, and alliums like garlic and onions. Add fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro to your juices.
  • Take chlorella, vitamin C, and probiotics to optimize your gut health.
  • Avoid non-organic and processed foods and foods with artificial additives.
  • Get more exercise to help your metabolism process toxins more efficiently.
  • Support your liver by avoiding alcohol.

There is no need to panic about heavy metal contamination. You can take control of your lifestyle and make informed choices about the way you buy your spices and other foods. You can minimize the risks to your body and your family and still enjoy a tasty and healthy diet. 

I like to buy spices from Thrive Market and on Amazon from a couple of companies: Anthony’s, Starwest Botanicals, and Primal Palate.

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How to Avoid Heavy Metal Contamination in Spices (Part 2) | Real Food RN


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