It’s not contaminated kale that you need to be wary of…it’s the toxic soil that’s leeching chemicals into the food we’re trying to grow.
A recent media uproar around "toxic kale" brought to light reports of trace amounts of heavy metals appearing in kale and other cruciferous vegetables. It all started when an independent researcher examined a group of kale heads in health-conscious Marin County, Calif., and found that many of these self-proclaimed "health nuts" tested positive for some heavy metals—the compound thallium in particular. Thallium, an ingredient in rat poison, showed up in the tests of these healthy eaters, which led researcher Ernie Hubbard to check out where these otherwise healthy people were getting exposed to this less than ideal substance. Turns out their kale and cruciferous vegetables tested slightly above average for thallium content, leading news outlets everywhere to warn consumers to be careful about how much kale they consume.
But before you eschew your kale chip for a potato chip, realize that the veggies aren’t to blame for the increase in heavy metals. Instead, we need to take a look at our soil and the contaminants found where we grow our food.
As pollution skyrockets, our soil has seen major increases in heavy metals and pesticides. Whatever is present in your soil ends up getting absorbed by the plants that grow in it. If the soil in your backyard has copper or mercury in it—guess what?—these metals will probably also show up in your homegrown salad.
Though it sounds bad, most of us shouldn't stress out about thallium. First of all, the levels of heavy metals in kale are so low that you’d need to eat obscene amounts of kale or cabbage on a daily basis to see any of the adverse effects. Of course, if you're concerned about your exposure to toxins, you can test your garden for heavy metal toxicity by sending your soil to a lab.
If you already suspect your soil contains toxins, you can rehab the garden naturally to make it more fertile and healthy. Try growing a plant you don't plan on eating—such as grass—to slowly soak up the toxins. To heal the soil a bit more quickly, try different soil additives to immobilize the metals.
Another option is to circumvent the soil issue entirely and save water by trying aeroponics, a gardening method that uses very little water and no soil. Aeroponics is fantastic for the environment because it requires very little space and much less water than traditional farming. Even city dwellers can experiment with this easy alternative to farming, and it's inherently organic, heavy metal, and pesticide-free.
The bottom line here? Take these alarmist media headlines with a grain of salt, and switch up your gardening methods if you're truly concerned about heavy metals winding up in your food. Feeling like you might be due for a detox? Check out our 10 easy ways to detox your body daily.
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