Foods are supposed to be nourishing, tasty, and health-promoting. Yet even a healthy diet can contain a high amount of toxins that are linked to poor health. When it comes to the diets of children, high toxin content becomes particularly important, considering children’s increased risk of toxicity at lower levels of exposure.

In a relatively recent study published in the journal Environmental Health, researchers measured toxin exposure through diet and found that children—particularly preschool children—were at high risk of exposure to arsenic, dieldrin, DDE (a metabolite of DDT), dioxins, and acrylamide. Due to the link between these toxins and cancer, developmental disabilities, birth defects, and other conditions, this was quite an eye-opening study.

All 364 children involved in the study exceeded cancer benchmark levels for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. Over 95 percent of the children exceeded non-cancer levels for acrylamide, a toxin produced during the processing of starchy carbohydrates into foods like tortilla and potato chips.

“We focused on children because early exposure can have long-term effects on disease outcomes,” stated lead researcher, Rainbow Vogt, “Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only measures risk based on exposures of individual contaminants. We wanted to understand the cumulative risk from dietary contaminants. The results of this study demonstrate a need to prevent exposure to multiple toxins in young children to lower their cancer risk.”

The study suggested ways to lower toxin exposure. The researchers recommend choosing organic produce to lower pesticide exposure, and they suggest a varied diet to reduce accumulation of any one toxin. Reduction of animal meat and fats, which may contain high levels of DDE and other persistent organic pollutants, and switching to organic milk and dairy products, is also suggested. Mercury avoidance by eating smaller fish such as sardines and avoiding large fish such as albacore or ahi tuna (which accumulate mercury), is recommended along with reducing consumption of processed carbohydrates to decrease exposure to acrylamide.

These are all recommendations I have been making all along—for adults and children. We simply must take control of our health by purchasing and eating foods that nourish us while reducing our toxic burden. Over the past few decades I have witnessed an ever-rising interest and consumption of such foods. It gives me hope that we are moving in a positive direction when it comes to a health-promoting diet.