Unfortunately toxic chemicals can sneak into our food... But it's easy to reduce your exposure with some simple changes.
1. Avoid Canned Food and Beverages.
Sadly, most food and drink cans (including liquid infant formula!!) are lined with BPA that leaches into the food/drinks (especially oily and acidic foods like fish and tomatoes). And studies prove this. A 2011 study by Harvard researchers found that people who ate one serving of canned food daily over the course of five days had a greater than tenfold increase of BPA in their urine, and another study published in December 2014 in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension found that when people drank soy milk from a can just one time, the levels of BPA in their urine rose dramatically within two hours – and so did their blood pressure, but on days when they drank the same beverage from glass bottles that don’t have BPA linings, there was no significant change in their BPA levels or blood pressure. In addition to hypertension, BPA has been associated with hormone disruption, reproductive problems, hyperactivity in children, cancer, heart disease and other health problems. Try to cook with fresh or frozen food whenever possible and if you need to choose canned, look for cans labeled as having a BPA-free lining.
2. Try to Buy and Eat Organic Produce.
Sadly, conventional produce is filled with pesticides. According to a recent Stanford paper, 38% of conventional produce had toxic pesticide residues on them in potentially harmful amounts. Of the hundreds of pesticides still in use today, many are proven to cause cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders, autoimmune disorders and hormone disruption – and they can cause these problems even at low level. Eating organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the level of pesticides in your body. A 2003 study at the University of Washington compared a group of 18 children who ate organic food with 21 children who ate conventional produce and found that the children who ate organic food had six to nine times less pesticide metabolites in their bodies! A 2005 study also demonstrated that in as little as 15 days, children adopting a primarily organic diet experienced a dramatic decrease in urinary concentrations of pesticides.
Buy organic when you can! Luckily many companies are making it much more affordable now that more people are looking for it. Another option is to shop at your local farmer’s market if you have one (you can usually find cheaper and often fresher produce). But always be sure to ask if it is pesticide-free. I spent a year buying product from a stand at a farmer’s market thinking it was organic only to later find out it was conventional and sprayed with pesticides. Many small farmers at the markets won’t have an organic certification because it’s expensive to get one, but they will tell you if they do or don’t use pesticides.
3. Speaking of Organic… Get to Know the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
While switching to all organic food may not be possible, knowing which crops have the highest levels of pesticides can help a lot. Each year the Environmental Working Group provides lists of fruits and veggies that have the have the highest amounts of pesticides (the ‘Dirty Dozen’), which should be purchased in organic form whenever possible, and those that have the lowest amounts of pesticides (the ‘Clean Fifteen’), which are less critical to buy organic. *Whenever you buy conventional produce be sure to wash thoroughly – a fruit and vegetable wash made from vinegar and water works very well.
**Note: The list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen changes annually, so be sure to check the EWG’s website at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
Dirty Dozen – BUY THESE ORGANIC (they actually listed 14 this year!):
· Sweet bell peppers
· Nectarines (imported)
· Cherry Tomatoes
· Snap Peas (imported)
· Hot Peppers
· Kale/Collard Greens
Clean 15 – Lower Pesticides, Ok If You Can’t Get Organic:
· Sweet Corn* (Try to buy organic to avoid GMOs)
· Sweet Peas (frozen)
· Papayas* (Try to buy organic to avoid GMOs)
· Sweet Potatoes
4. Avoid GMOs.
There are still many questions about the safety of consuming genetically modified foods. All of the European Union nations as well as Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries have mandatory labeling of foods that contain GMOs. The growing body of evidence that GMOs are dangerous prompted the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) to publicly warn that “it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.” So try to buy products that state that they are free of GMOs (certified organic foods are required to be GMO free), and especially buy organic and/or GMO-free versions of those foods that are most often genetically modified. The top GMO foods are soy, corn (including high fructose corn syrup, sugar beets (most sugar is made from this), canola oil, cottonseed oil, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow squash and papaya.
5. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners and products containing them
There is so much data now linking artificial sweeteners to a range of negative health impacts. This includes aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet'N Low), acesulfame potassium, neotame, and others. Check your food labels at home and throw out everything that has on its label: Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium (K), Saccharin or Sucralose, NutraSweet®, Splenda®. Avoid products that are labeled “low calorie,” “diet,” “sugar free,” or “no sugar added” since they all likely contain sugar additives. Drink purified water instead of diet drinks. If you need a sweetener, use small amounts of natural sweeteners like raw, organic honey, organic black strap molasses, coconut nectar or stevia (*don’t use Truvia which contains lots of chemical additives).
6. Eat and Drink FRESH Food and Beverages.
Avoid sodas and processed and packaged foods as much as you can as these can contain all sorts of bad stuff including chemical additives, and artificial colorings and flavorings. As for those artificial colors, Blue, Green 3, and Yellow 6 are the worst of the colorings and have been linked to numerous forms of cancer, along with hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children.49
7. Filter Your Tap Water or Use An External Water Filter
Unfortunately, depending on where you live any number of contaminants may be present in your tap water including chemicals from industrial waste, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, plasticizers, chlorine, and heavy metals… not to mention fluoride. At a minimum, use a water filter in the kitchen for the water you drink and cook with. There are LOTS of different ones out there. You can check out the Environmental Working Group’s online database to see the contaminants that are in your water and to get help choosing a filter that best fits what you are looking for and that will remove those specific toxins!
MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE WATER FILTER that I use in my home is the Berkey Water Filter. I have had my Travel Berkey water filter for the last 7 years (I purchased the Travel Berkey because I live alone, but they have sizes and options for everyone plus shower filters!), and I love it. Berkey water filters outperform commercially available portable and household water filters. The cleanable Black Berkey filter elements last up to 10 times longer than other filters competition and are so powerful that they even remove viruses. This ability to filter viruses qualifies the Berkey water filters as water purifiers. And, they have an added filter available to remove fluoride!
8. Avoid Non-Organic Animal Products.
Non-organic meat, dairy products and eggs are shown to have higher levels of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.
First let’s talk about the bacteria and antibiotics. An extremely high percentage of all the flesh from the chickens, turkeys, cows, fish and pigs killed every year in the U.S. for food is contaminated with E. coli, campylobacter, listeria, or other dangerous bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts, flesh, and feces of animals. To counteract these bacteria as well as to prevent them from dying from all of the diseases that are rampant in factory farms and cause them to grow faster, high amounts of antibiotics are fed to all of the animals. Unfortunately, the antibiotics don’t just disappear. They remain in the animal’ bodies and humans consume them when they eat animal products, encouraging the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria. But that’s not the only danger associated with the high amounts of antibiotics given to these animals. Roxarsone, an antibiotic commonly used on factory farms, contains significant amounts of the most carcinogenic form of arsenic. USDA researchers have found that eating 2 ounces of chicken per day—the equivalent of a third to a half of a boneless breast—exposes a consumer to 3 to 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, which is the most toxic form of arsenic. Daily exposure to low doses of arsenic can dramatically increase the risk of cancer, dementia, neurological problems, and other ailments in humans.
To add to the bacteria and antibiotics there are also high amounts of hormones in meat and milk. According to the USDA, by 1999, roughly 99 percent of cows on large feedlots in the U.S. were given synthetic hormones. These hormones, which make cows grow larger and produce more milk than they would naturally produce, are prohibited for over-the-counter use by humans in the United States. However, if humans eat most meats, they are still getting the banned hormones. Scientists have clearly shown that these hormones can increase the risk of disrupted development, cancer in humans, and development of other disorders, including gynecomastia (enlarged male breasts). In spite of all the evidence of the hormones’ harmful effects on human health, the FDA refuses to adequately regulate their use to promote growth in cows. So when you eat meat from these cows or drink milk, you are consuming potentially unsafe drugs that are not intended or allowed for humans. Some health-conscious consumers buy organic milk and organic beef because they think it’s hormone-free, but they are mistaken. Despite its label, “organic” meat from cows is often treated with hormones—when inspectors in the European Union randomly sampled “hormone-free” beef from the U.S., they found that 12 percent of the meat had been treated with powerful hormones that are banned in Europe. And even if the cows are not treated with synthetic hormones, because pregnant cows produce hormones naturally and cows used for their milk are kept constantly pregnant, even the milk of “organic” “hormone free” cows is still filled with sex hormones.
And, if the bacteria, antibiotics, and hormones in animal products aren’t enough, there is also a build-up of dangerous chemical dioxins in animal products that are absorbed into your body when you eat them. Dioxins are chemicals that are released into the environment through manufacturing and industrial processes, and they accumulate in animals’ tissue and milk. According to leading scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 95 percent of our dioxin exposure comes in the concentrated form of meat, fish, and dairy products, because when we eat animal products, the dioxins that animals have built up in their bodies are absorbed into our own. Dioxins are highly toxic; they bind to cells and modify their functioning, potentially causing a wide range of effects, including cancer, depressed immune response, nervous system disorders, miscarriages, and birth deformities. Researchers at the EPA have found that people who consume even small amounts of dioxins from meat and dairy products have an extra one in 100 risk of suffering from cancer—solely as a result of their dioxin consumption and on top of all other risks.
Pesticides are also present in large quantities in meat and have been linked to a wide range of health problems in humans, including birth defects and cancer. Although humans do ingest some herbicides and pesticides from plant foods, scientists report that animal products are responsible for roughly 80 to 90 percent of dietary pesticide exposure. Pesticides are sprayed on crops that are eventually fed to farmed animals, and like dioxins, pesticides accumulate in the animals’ bodies over time. When we eat the flesh, milk, or eggs of animals, we absorb the pesticides that they have eaten during their lives. And fish aren’t exempt from the accumulation of toxins as the oceans that they live in are now contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury and even radioactive materials.
9. Avoid Farmed Fish.
High levels of mercury and PCBs are found in farmed fish – especially the larger ones that are higher up on the food chain such as marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, shark, mackerel and Ahi tuna. If you do choose to eat fish, choose wild caught and smaller fish such as salmon and sardines that contain fewer contaminants. You can check out the Food and Water Watch’s National Smart Seafood Guide, which has a print-out card you can take with you to restaurants and markets. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/common-resources/fish/seafood/guide/
10. Meat-Eaters Should Look for Organic, Grass-Fed Meats, Raised Without Antibiotics or Hormones. Unless it is labeled as hormone-free, you can be pretty sure that the cattle were given a variety of growth hormones. Factory farmed animals are also fed grains filled with pesticides and GMOs, and these environmental toxins get stored and accumulated in their fat, which gets passed on to you when you eat it. In the U.S. the use of antibiotics is also permitted and are given in normal feed to factory-farmed animals as part of the dietary regimen… unfortunately the use of antibiotics in the meat (and poultry) industry is a major factor in the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. If you choose to eat meat, look for organic, meats raised without antibiotics or hormones – and grass-fed is best.
11. If You Eat Poultry, Look for Free-Range Organic.
In addition to antibiotics, organic arsenic is routinely fed to poultry to prevent bacterial infections and improve weight gain – even though arsenic is a known carcinogen! So, try to choose free-range organic if you choose chicken, but if you can’t find or afford this, be sure to look for antibiotic-free and avoid factory-farmed or processed chicken products.
12. And Speaking of Meat and Poultry…Avoid Charring, Grilling and Cooking Your Meats at Very High Temperatures.
The charring, grilling and BBQing of meat, poultry and fish creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds linked with cancer. HCAs are created when the meat, poultry and fish are subjected to intense high heat and have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals and may increase the risk of cancers of the breast, colon, stomach and prostate in humans. PAHs are formed when animal or fish fats drip onto hot coals and the smoke and fire that fumes up causes these toxic residues to get on your food and are linked to increase risk of stomach cancer. But, there are things you can do to limit the risk of PHAs and HCAs if you choose to grill. The biggest problem is the heat – the longer and hotter the cooking, the greater the problem. So try to limit cooking time on the grill as much as possible (maybe pre-cook a bit before popping on the grill); cut off any charred portions; and stick to leaner cuts of meat. Marinating your meat in herbs and lemon juice for at least 30 minutes before grilling has been shown to significantly reduce the formation of PAHs and HCAs.
I love my coffee - and drink it twice a day. I know I'm not alone ... so any chemicals in the coffee will add up over time.
Drink Organic Coffee! Most conventional coffee likely contains lots of pesticides and herbicides. Though certain pesticides may be banned or highly regulated in the U.S. and Europe, they are often still used in many other countries where coffee is grown. And look for a coffee that is tested to be free of mold and mycotoxins, which is a very common problem in most coffees.
This is why I choose Purity Organic Coffee. Purity coffee is certified organic and tested for mold and mycotoxins which is a common problem in most other coffees. If you do choose to drink coffee, I highly recommend Purity Coffee.
Only use decaf coffee that has been decaffeinated through a Swiss water process. Decaf coffee can contain even more chemicals than caffeinated coffee depending on how it is decaffeinated because many decaffeination processes use chemical solvents.
Use unbleached coffee filters. While results are inconclusive, the EPA has noted some possible risk that dioxins from bleaching agents can leach into coffee as it is brewed.50 Since this is an easy fix to buy unbleached filters, better safe than sorry I say. You can also use a French press to avoid all filters.
Use filtered water for your coffee. If you’re using unfiltered water from the tap, you could also be adding chlorine, fluoride and other toxins that are in the water – and heating them can make them even more toxic to your body.
If you need to add some flavor or make your coffee a bit sweeter, DON’T use artificial sweeteners or flavorings. Instead use organic honey or stevia. You can also add organic unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk and there are a variety of organic spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and vanilla that will give it a great flavor.
Try to use a plastic-free coffee maker. Unfortunately, that Mr. Coffee is mostly all plastic (ever gotten that plastic taste especially when you use a new machine?). It’s not great to be drinking water that has been piping hot through plastic as the chemicals can leach into your nice cup of java. Some great alternatives are coffee percolators made of stainless steel, glass French press or just boiling your water on the stove and pouring it over your coffee grounds through a filter. I admit it’s not as convenient as Mr. Coffee, but I promise it’s a lot less chemical-filled!
Avoid the plastic lids at Starbucks! If you're like most people, when you order your morning latte, you don't think about the plastic lid; however, research shows that you probably should. Plastic coffee lids made with #6 or #7 plastic are very likely to contain and release BPA – and this is especially the case with coffee because the heat and acidity of the liquid cause high levels of BPA to leach into your drink. Instead, if you really want that Starbucks bring your own reusable stainless steel mug or make your organic coffee at home!
14. Make sure your tea is organic.
The herbs in tea bags can actually be filled with pesticides that then soak into your hot beverage. A 2013 analysis found that 91% of Celestial Seasonings tea tested had pesticide residues exceeding the U.S. limits (for example, Sleepytime Kids Goodnight Grape Herbal contained 0.26 ppm of propachlor, which is a known carcinogen under California’s Propsition 65) and 100% Teavana’s teas contained pesticides! (Teavana is the brand at Starbucks). Luckily there are LOTS of great organic tea brands out there!
15. Avoid Refined Table Salts.
Our bodies require a certain amount of salt to function, which you can get naturally in the foods you eat. Most table salt is refined and contains none of the naturally occurring minerals.53 Salt refiners also add other chemicals during the refining process to keep it from caking such as anti-caking agents and aluminum compounds. Some even add dextrose sugar. Research has shown that refined salt can have detrimental influences on the human body. If you want some added salt choose natural unrefined salts such as pure Himalayan salt, Celtic Sea Salt and Redmond Real Salt which don’t have all of the added chemicals and fillers (these can be found at most grocers or easily online).