Can Changing How We Farm Impact the Amount of Nickel in our Food?

Insatiably curious I wish I knew exactly how and why certain foods contain high concentrations of nickel than other foods. The first place to look is in our soil, water, and air. Nickel occurs both naturally and is a byproduct of industry, causing it to be found in the soil, water and air. I love how the Royal Society of Chemistry‘s periodic table for the element nickel describes how,

“The minerals from which most nickel is extracted are iron/nickel sulfides such as pentlandite. It is also found in other minerals, including garnierite.

A substantial amount of the nickel on Earth arrived with meteorites. One of these landed in the region near Ontario, Canada, hundreds of millions of years ago. This region is now responsible for about 15% of the world’s production.”

I’ve written how nickel is found in our tap water – predominately from the zinc coated steel or iron made galvanized pipes used to transport water into our homes, public buildings and businesses. The concept of growing more of our food using hydroponic and/or aquaponic processes fascinates me. The difference between hydrponic and acquponic systems is:

“Aquaponic and hydroponic systems both use water and share a few common parts, but that’s where the similarities end. Hydroponic systems focus solely on plant growth, while aquaponic systems attempt to achieve a healthy life balance between both plants and fish. Aquaponics takes the more natural path, while many hydroponic systems rely on simplicity.”[1]

Previously, my partner and I have owned an AeroGarden where we grew tomatoes and herbs, hydroponically. It involves the garden itself where seed pods with plant seeds and nutrients a grow in water and are exposed to a grow light bulb for a certain amount each day that simulates the sunshine. While owning the AeroGarden, I never grew any foods that contain nickel, like lettuce, to test whether growing foods in this environment could reduce or eliminate my allergic reaction.

A couple weeks ago I came across this fascinating article by the Sierra Club noting how “aquaponics could revolutionize food production.” The slides show the aquaponic process, and identify that the tilapia fish would be fed a soy based feed. Growing plants using the fish waste comprised of soy feed would probably do more harm than good for those of us with nickel & soy food allergies. People with food allergies would probably want to use hydroponic growing systems rather than aquaponic systems to ensure no soy contaminates the food. I don’t know if that occurs, but I think further research is required.

Plants grown using either hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems are done so without soil and many times without open air. This plant growing process could possibly reduce the amount of nickel retained in the food. I need to learn more food chemistry to know for sure!

[1] Miksen, Chris. “Aquaponic Vs. Hydroponic.” Home Guides. SFGate.  Retrieved 5/27/15 from http://homeguides.sfgate.com/aquaponic-vs-hydroponic-31311.html.