Keep the lead out, avoid balsamic, red wine vinegars

I had a lovely evening the other night down at Kealia Beach with friends watching the “supermoon” rise. One new friend alerted me to the fact that she noticed that a bottle of balsamic vinegar that she had bought had a warning label on it alerting consumers about the lead content in it.

The bottle she described was a Modena Balsamic vinegar that is an aged rather gourmet type. 

Apparently the more aged, and fermented the vinegar, the higher the levels of lead. So, I did a little checking and it turns out that many balsamic and red wine vinegars contain lead.

Enough that they, according to the state of California, must be labeled as such. The law in California has a safety margin of 1,000 fold, which means that foods must be labeled if they contain more than 1,000 times lower than the level known to be harmful to humans. 

California is the only state that requires this warning. There is speculation that the lead may come from the soil in which the grapes are grown or enters through the manufacturing process, but it does not appear to come from the glass bottles in which the vinegar is stored.

Most of the red wine and balsamic vinegars have lead equal or less than 34 parts per million, which means that the average person would need to consume one or two cups of lead a day to reach the minimum threshold which includes a 1,000 fold safety margin.

Still, small children and compromised persons could be adversely affected at lower levels and most people don’t willingly want to put toxins into their bodies that will cause neurological damage. 

Heavy metals such as lead also have a cumulative effect. Some experts state that for a child to consume a tablespoon a day can raise their lead level by more than 30 percent over time.

For most children the highest risk of lead exposure comes from old deteriorating house paint, and even the smallest amount is not safe for young developing brains. In adults lead ingestion leads to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In both cases the extra load from ingestion of lead tainted balsamic vinegar could push someone into the toxicity risk zone.

Lead is very toxic and persistent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there is no known threshold below which adverse effects do not occur.

Lead exposure in the United States has dropped significantly in the past few decades because it has been removed form gasoline and paint; now the lead in food continues to be a source of exposure.

Obviously, lead from vinegar can be avoided and this is a straight-forward precautionary action.

Some companies test every batch of their vinegar products to ensure that they are lead-free. A list of vinegar companies that do not violate the California Proposition 65 guidelines is available at the Environmental Health News website.

You can reduce your family’s exposure to lead by choosing green-labeled vinegars that clearly state that they meet the Proposition 65 guidelines.

If you choose vinegars that comply with the standards, you do not have to go without the delicious flavors of balsamic and red wine vinegars, as well as their numerous health benefits (including bioflavonoids, antioxidants that are also found in red wine).

Outside of California, companies are not generally required to put warnings on their products, and you have no certain way of knowing whether a manufacturer has elevated levels of lead in their products. 

You should reduce your consumption of balsamic or red wine vinegars, especially the longer-aged vinegars. Use rice or cider vinegars instead for greater safety, while using balsamic vinegars less frequently. Bon appetit!!

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Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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