TellSpec Top 5: The metals in your food

Last week we introduced Top 5 Metals in Your Food. Here is another group of 5 metals for your curiosity.

6.Mg6. Manganese is essential to human health and plays many roles, including aiding brain and nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and bone and connective tissue health. Manganese poisoning is uncommon outside of industries that deal directly with it, though early exposure is associated with delayed neurodevelopment. Manganese deficiency, however, is estimated to occur in up to 37% of Americans, particularly those with refined-grain-based diets, as it is found in whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Manganese may help minimize osteoporosis damage when taken with other essential elements; may reduce PMS symptoms; may improve cholesterol profiles in diabetics; and may help reduce pain in arthritic patients.

References: University of Maryland Medical Center / Food Standards Agency

7.Hg7. Mercury is most commonly discussed regarding methylmercury content in seafood. Methylmercury will accumulate within the protein of fish and shellfish and is not destroyed by cooking; other sources include rice grown in mercury-contaminated areas and sometimes organ meats. As methylmercury accumulates up the food chain, choosing smaller fish lower on the food chain like sardines, not only larger predatory fish like tuna, can help control intake. Some studies have also found mercury in high fructose corn syrup. Methylmercury intake is associated with cardiovascular disorders; possible effects on male fetuses during pregnancy; and neurological disorders and delayed development, notably in children whose mothers’ diet had higher mercury levels.

References: BioOne / International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health / European Commission 1 / European Commission 2

8.Se8. Selenium is essential to human health and typically intake is within the healthy range. However, exceeding the maximum recommended intake can lead to symptoms within days. These symptoms include hair and nail loss, skin lesions, digestive issues, and effects on the nervous system. Fish, shellfish, and animal meats can provide the recommended daily intake within one to two servings; multiple servings over the day can get the intake up into the danger zone, particularly when combined with supplements such as multivitamins. Perhaps the biggest risk is brazil nuts, an ounce of which can contain over 700% of the recommended daily intake—well above the maximum intake value. So stick to nuts like almonds for your afternoon snack.

References: ScienceDirect 1 / ScienceDirect 2 / De Gruyter / ScienceDirect / Nutrition Data / Live Science

9.Sn9. Tin is nonessential to life and fortunately is not highly absorbed by the body. High levels of tin intake can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The most likely source of tin in the diet is unlacquered tin cans and possibly tin-containing cooking implements. Tin leaching from tin cans is most common if acidic foods are stored in them; buying tomato products, fruits, pickles, and similar items in glass containers reduces this risk. Tin-containing-compounds known as organotin compounds have been used industrially and agriculturally, and therefore may exist in water runoff and marine life.

References: Wiley Online Library / ScienceDirect

10.Zn10. Zinc is essential to a healthy body and deficiency is more common than excess consumption. Zinc deficiency can cause impaired cognitive and motor function, is associated with certain cancers, increased risk of pneumonia, complications to pregnancy, and can impact appetite. Risk of zinc deficiency increases with gastrointestinal illnesses causing malabsorption, diabetes, and bariatric surgeries. Food sources of zinc include oysters, shellfish, meat, legumes, and nuts (notably cashews and almonds.)

References: NCBI / National Institutes of Health / Food Navigator / Food Standards Agency / Healthy Eating

An Update from Tellspec CEO Isabel Hoffmann

Dear Supporters and Friends,

The TellSpec™ headquarters are buzzing with excitement! As you know, we are now collaborating with Texas Instruments to incorporate their award-winning DLP® technology into the TellSpec food scanner. We are currently hard at work to produce beta units for our Indiegogo Beta Testers and Developer Contributors. We expect to start delivery of these scanners in late Q2 2014. The TellSpec scanner will use micromirrors and a broadband lamp rather than a laser, ultimately bringing a safer, more accurate and faster technology to consumers.

Our Beta Testers and Developer Contributors will play a crucial role in helping to build the TellSpec global food database. These backers will be some of the first to own the device and are key supporters to making this powerful tool available to the public.

With the beta units, the testers will be able to scan simple foods (like fruits, vegetables, crackers, breads, chocolate, eggs, meat and potato chips) and receive data about the calories, macronutrients, ingredients, and allergens in that particular item of food. This summer, we will have a live video demonstrating a beta unit in action, along with instructions on how to use the scanner to help grow the global TellSpec food database.

Thanks to the data collected by beta testers; we anticipate that the final model to be able to scan simple mixed foods such as cakes and pizzas. The final model is expected to be delivered to all backers including the ones that have pre-bought the scanner on our website by the end of the year. Every time beta testers scan, they not only learn about what’s in their food, but they also grow the global TellSpec database. TellSpec’s commitment to building a healthier world by empowering people to make informed choices grows with every scan. That is crowd-sourced power for consumers. And this is only the beginning. Details on how we will accomplish this are outlined in our patent filed August 13, 2013.

Crowd-funding enabled our team to receive immediate feedback from our backers and the public, which led us to make strategic choices with our product and further expand our vision. It was this very same feedback that led us to switch from Raman laser technology to the safer NIR spectroscopy technology. We listened to you, our backers, and your concerns about the safety of the laser used in Raman. We chose the NIR spectral measurement technology as the alternative to Raman because it is used extensively in the industry for food analysis and has a proven track record for food applications since the 1980s. We also received a lot of feedback about tracking daily goals and providing nutritional advice; both of which are features that we will now include in our beta version of our smartphone application.

We strongly believe responding to consumer feedback to develop the best product for our backers is a key part of the crowd-funding experience. This allows our backers to remain an integral part of our project that aims to build a healthier world by empowering people to make informed choices about the food they eat. This is truly a project for the people, grown by people, and made stronger and better by people.

To our Beta Testers and Developer Contributors:

Please note that the look and feel of the beta unit you will receive is different than the final version we will send to you at the end of the year. This is because we are still working on fine-tuning the technology to be small enough to fit into the palm-sized scanners like the prototypes on our page. It’s not as sexy as the final version you will receive at the end of the year but it is ready for its first assignment! And, it will have the ability to receive data about the calories, macronutrients, ingredients, allergens in simple food.

Our VP of Hardware Engineering, Dr. John Coates, a world recognized expert spectroscopy, is busy working to integrate new hardware features into the TellSpec scanner so the price will be kept low. John is currently working with a design group we have engaged, to deliver the TellSpec scanner within the expected price point.

Lastly, as an integral part of TellSpec’s success, we want to keep you abreast of our progress and share how we are using the money we’ve raised as a community. Since our funding in November, we have recruited further talent, begun set up our distribution chains, invested in further R&D, paid for hardware partners for a first run of production, and are developing directives for beta testers along with the beta prototype scanners.

Changing the way people access information about their food will not be an easy task, but thanks to your backing, the action you take will help build the global TellSpec food database. Furthermore; it is your support of this disruptive technology that will help us succeed in revolutionizing what we know about what’s in our food. We thank you for your continued support, loyalty, and understanding.

Wishing you the best in health and peace always,

Have questions? Email us at

Isabel Hoffmann
Founder and CEO

Tellspec Top 5: The metals in your food

Today’s Top 5 from TellSpec is shedding light on the topic of metals in your food. What they are, where they come from, and what effects they may have on your health.

First, let’s clear up terms you may have heard:
Heavy metals refers to elements (the things that make up all of life as we know it) that have metallic properties. Heavy metals are not inherently bad; some, like zinc and copper are essential to life; but others, like mercury and lead are considered toxic metals, as significant levels can cause serious illness. However even essential metallic elements can be toxic at a high enough intake.

Alkaline metals refers simply to the group of alkaline earth metals of the periodic table, including calcium. These are distinct from the terms alkali and acidic, which are common in diet discussion.

Alkalinity in that context refers to the pH scale, where something is rated as more acidic or more alkaline (basic); think vinegar and baking soda. So “alkaline foods” or even “alkalized” foods, such as alkalized, Dutch process cocoa, do not necessarily contain significant levels of the alkaline metals.

Elements, minerals, and metals. These terms are overlapping and dependent on context or even quantity. For example copper: copper is a metal in the broad sense, it is also listed as a mineral on nutrition facts labels, and it is an element on the chemist’s periodic table.

The Top 5:

1.Al1. Aluminium has no known use within the body, and its main sources within the diet come from trace amounts in food, water, and transfer from aluminium foil and cooking tools. Acidic foods increase the amount of the metal that will leach from contact with aluminium pots, pans, foil, and utensils. Though no conclusive link has been proven, at the intake expected from a typical diet, studies have suggested a link between aluminium and disorders of the brain, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and hyperactivity. Fortunately aluminium is not very readily absorbed by the body, however older individuals may be more susceptible to aluminium absorption and its effects.

References: Food Standards Agency 1 / Food Standards Agency 2 / Environmental Science Europe / NRC Research Press / Sage / Food Standards Agency 3

2.As_V22. Arsenic may or may not be essential to life, though it is certainly toxic at significant levels. Low level and chronic exposure to arsenic can cause nausea, vomiting, and cardiovascular issues, and is associated with increased cancer risk, lung damage, and possible problems in pregnancy and brain development. Sources of arsenic include pesticides, seafood, possibly fruit juices, and rice. Notably, brown rice will typically contain more arsenic relative to its polished white rice counterpart, as arsenic accumulates within the portion of the grain that is removed to form white rice.

References: NCBI / Journal of Nutrition / Food Standards Agency / European Commission / WebMD

3.Cd3. Cadmium has not been shown to be essential to human health, and its main sources are cigarettes, industrial pollution, and some foodstuffs. Seafood and organ meats have relatively high levels of cadmium, though grains and cereals as well as fruits and vegetables are a source, particularly as they are more common in the diet. Cadmium intake is generally quite low (though low iron increases its uptake), however it does not leave the body quickly and therefore can cause damage later in life. Cadmium is particularly toxic to kidney function, can cause reduced bone density, and is associated with increased cancer risk.

References: Wiley / Science Direct / Dart Mouth / Food Standards Agency / European Commission / EFSA

4.Cu4. Copper is essential to human life, and adequate levels are usually attainable with a healthy diet. Sources include seafood, organ meats, nuts, and legumes. Copper toxicity may be a risk if you make use of unlined, or worn-down, copper cooking implements, particularly if they maintain contact with acidic foods. Exercise caution with copper bowls and pots that have been used for awhile, or come from yard sales. Copper poisoning can cause vomiting, low blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues; long-term exposure can damage liver and kidneys. High levels of copper within the body is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, though a causal link is not yet confirmed.

References: Food Standards Agency / Clinph Journal / Retinning / Food Science / SF Gate

5.Pb5. Lead is a well-known toxic metal, with significant negative health effects with acute and chronic exposure. Long-term effects are particularly concerning as lead takes between months and years to leave the body, during which time it can damage virtually every system in the body, particularly the brain. This is especially concerning for pregnant women, as lead stored in the bones during earlier exposure may be freed during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and can transfer to the baby in-utero or through breast milk, damaging the developing brain. Outside of environmental (air, dirt, dust), occupational, and incidental exposure (lead-containing paints, ceramics, and crystalware), food is a source of lead. Meat and organ meat have the highest levels, but trace amounts can be found in grains, dairy, and even fruits and vegetables. While lead is highly monitored, consumers should make informed decisions when incorporating certain items in their diet.

References: Health Canada / EFSA / Food Navigator / Food Standards / European Commission