Unfortunately, the tools we use in the kitchen, the food we eat and the water and other beverages we drink can also be a source of toxins. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” A key foundation for staying healthy in a toxic world is proper nutrition – including what we eat, how we prepare it and how we store it. Of course this is often easier said than done… pesticides and GMOs sneakily creep up everywhere, preservatives and food additives are routinely added during the processing of foods to make it last longer and taste better, and even the packaging materials may contain toxic ingredients. BUT, there are simple ways we can make some changes to reduce the toxins we ingest through our food and drink!
Storage and Preparation
1. Avoid Plastic Food and Beverage Containers and Plastic Wraps. Even BPA-free plastics can leach harmful chemicals into your food including other bisphenols, phthalates, and carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting toxins.31 Instead choose glass food storage containers for refrigerator, freezer and pantry storage and use glass or stainless steel water bottles. For babies, use glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles. I also love mason jars for storage – they come in all sizes and shapes (the small ones with wide mouths make amazing containers for little snacks to take on the go instead of using plastic) and you can buy inexpensive BPA-free storage lids to go with them.
2. If You Do Use Plastic, Keep It Out of the Microwave and Dishwasher! Never heat food in plastic of any kind (plastic Tupperware, plastic wrap, Ziploc bags etc.) – not even BPA-free plastic AND not even if it says “microwave safe”! When plastic is heated, it leaches more chemicals. Instead if you choose to microwave, use safe glassware or lead-free ceramic containers. And the hot water and detergents in the dishwasher causes plastic to degrade and release toxins even faster. Food types also have an effect – acidic and oily foods cause the release of more toxins (many plastics are highly fat soluble). So if you do choose to use plastic for food storage, try to use it for dry foods and replace them often.
3. Avoid Non-Stick and Teflon Cookware Including Pots, Pans, Bakeware Etc. Honestly,It’s hard to believe that this product is still on the market considering the warnings from the EPA about its toxicity! Nonstick cookware and Teflon contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which can leach into food (especially at high heat) and releases toxic fumes into the air during use. PFOA is the most persistent synthetic chemical known to man, and is found in the blood of nearly every person tested.32 An EPA advisory panel reported that PFOA is a “likely carcinogen” in humans,33 and, in addition to cancer, it has been linked to liver damage, growth defects, immune system damage and death in lab rats and monkeys. In the past 25 years, the toxic fumes released from heated non-stick cookware has been shown to be deadly to birds, with many hundreds of pet birds dying every year from “Teflon toxicosis”.34, 36 Even more scary is that DuPont’s own scientists have admitted that polymer fume fever in humans is possible at 662°F, a temperature easily exceeded when a pan is preheated on a burner or placed beneath a broiler.35, 36 No amount of time or stuck-on food is worth it!! Instead try to use cast iron or stainless steel pots and pans and lead-free glass or ceramic bakeware.
4. Don’t Cook or Wrap Foods in Aluminum Foil. Even though the research linking aluminum to chronic long-term health problems is debated, scientific studies have found potential connections between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease,37, 38 certain cancers, and infertility.39 So, I believe it’s best to be better safe than sorry. Also, studies clearly show that when aluminum foil is in contact with food, small amounts of aluminum from the foil leach into the food (especially when the foil is heated and when in contact with oily and acidic foods that increase its breakdown rate). For example, in one study conducted in Italy about 2-6 milligrams of aluminum was found to move over into food from aluminum foils, cookware, and utensils.40 Even if this amount has not been shown in the scientific literature to pose health harm, I prefer to keep my food as free as possible from a potentially problematic metal. And, lastly, aluminum foil mining, manufacturing and disposal is really bad for the environment (it’s actually on the U.S. federal government’s list of priority toxins) – so the less we use and buy the better! So while aluminum foil may be convenient in the kitchen, I think that doesn’t outweigh its downsides. (Also try to avoid aluminum from food additives such as pickling agents (alum), anticaking agents (aluminum silicates), baking powders (sodium aluminum sulfate), and baking mixes (sodium aluminum phosphate).
5. Use Lead-Free Glassware. Ever heard of lead crystal, those expensive crystal glasses that literally sparkle? They sparkle because they contain lead oxide and the lead ions will leach into your food and drinks. A 1996 study found that beverages stored in lead crystal accumulated significant amounts of lead.41 Most glassware produced after 1990 for food is lead-free, but if you have older lead crystal glassware or decanters (inherit any from grandma?), you should just use them for show.
6. Use Lead-Free and Food-Safe Ceramic-ware. Also try to find lead-free ceramics. Lead from ceramic glazes can easily enter food. Ceramic-ware made outside the U.S. is particularly risky – the FDA even advises against the use of ceramic cookware from Mexico, China, India and Hong Kong. And avoid storing acidic foods (tomato sauce, vinegar dressings, etc.) in ceramic ware. If you buy mugs, make sure they state that they are lead-free and NEVER use a ceramic piece labeled “For decorative purposes only” for your food or drinks (surprisingly, many mugs out there actually have this warning but it’s not well-known!).