Nickel is one of the trace elements that humans need to consume in their diet to maintain health and performance. However, it is also true for trace elements that excessive intake can cause toxic phenomena. Nickel can cause adverse health effects when ingested chronically orally, as well as acute symptoms of poisoning when ingested in high amounts. In addition, nickel is considered the most common trigger of contact allergies.
In its Scientific Opinion 2020, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concludes that there are acute risks for sensitized individuals. Regarding chronic effects, especially infants, toddlers and children with a higher nickel intake could be exposed to a potential health risk. The average chronic nickel intake ranges from 1.89 μg/kg bw/day for older individuals to 14.6 μg/kg bw/day for infants. The highest share of exposure in all age groups is taken by the product group cereals and cereal products.
In 2020, 410 samples of different product groups were tested for nickel in Austria. For a large part of the product groups, the levels are in the low range. The highest nickel contents were measured in tea and tea-like products. People who have to follow a low-nickel diet can use food tables for orientation, which divide foods into high-nickel and low-nickel products. When preparing acidic foods, the use of glass, ceramic, clay, or special nickel-free cookware is recommended. Skin contact with nickel-containing objects and cigarette smoke should be avoided.