Regardless of our differences, we share the common goal of providing ourselves and our families with a safe and nurturing environment. We make many positive choices - preparing nutritious meals, encouraging physical activity, baby proofing our homes when necessary. But despite our best efforts, these choices may not result in maximal positive results because there are many more insidious dangers that we may not be aware of like the chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis that thwart even our best intentions. In today’s world, we are inevitably exposed to some degree of toxin load on a daily basis and although we may not be able to eliminate that exposure completely, there are actions that we can take to minimize the potential harm.
One of the major trends of health conscious consumers is choosing to buy organic and natural foods. Organic food crops are generally grown without artificial fertilizers, the use of chemical pesticides, irradiation or biotechnology. Some research has shown these foods to be higher in nutritional value and the advantage of reduced cumulative pesticide exposure may be helpful although the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables of any sort likely outweigh the risks. Organic food however tends to be rather expensive and sometimes the cost of buying everything organic can be prohibitive. Taking into consideration many factors such as growing habit and skin thickness, there are certain foods that are worthwhile buying organic. This list of foods “The Dirty Dozen Plus 2013” as compiled by the Environmental Working Group includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines (imported), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet peppers, kale/collard greens and summer squash. These foods are thought to contain the most pesticide residue and are important to buy organic if possible. And as it stands for any produce, wash thoroughly prior to use.
Certain shellfish and fish such as tuna and swordfish contain high levels of mercury. Even in small amounts, mercury can be damaging to an unborn child’s neurological system. Serious harm such as nerve damage can also come to adults who are exposed to excessive amounts of this element. Yet fish is an enriched source of Omega 3, which is very good for heart health and other health benefits, so it’s important not to abstain from eating seafood but instead make wiser choices. Fish lower in mercury include Atlantic mackerel, herring, rainbow trout, wild salmon and tilapia among others.
The most common and seemingly harmless products that we use everyday contain a myriad of potential toxins. These products are used directly on our skin and in turn many ingredients can easily be absorbed into our bodies where they come into direct contact with sensitive tissues and organs. Granted the quantity of any potentially harmful chemical in a single application of a single product is usually very small, but we usually use many different products together and are exposed to a variety of other environmental toxins as well. Moreover, chemicals in personal care products that we rinse down the drain can accumulate in our environment and can contaminate our water and aquatic ecosystems. Many sources are available that list chemical ingredients to avoid. The ingredient list on many of these products may seem daunting, but investing time into reading labels will provide you with a collection of healthy products to choose from on a regular basis.
If you were to look into your cupboard and really take a look at the ingredients behind the “streak free” and “disinfecting” promises your cleaners make, you would be shocked. Many of these chemicals may not only just be detrimental to your and your family, but also may cause environmental harm ultimately contaminating our waterways. All you need are common items such as baking soda, soap, vinegar, borax, etc. and some guidance for cleaner recipes that can be readily obtained online or from other sources. If taking this on seems daunting, then there are many products now in the marketplace that have replaced harmful ingredients with natural ones.
Convenience and simplicity are often highly valued in today’s demanding society. Processed foods can satisfy those needs quite easily, but they are not necessarily the healthy choice. Not only do processed foods usually contain high levels of salt, fat and carbohydrates, but there are potentially dangerous ingredients as well in the form of preservatives, colorings, artificial flavors and sweeteners. For example it is not uncommon to find BHT (a preservative), high-fructose corn syrup and artificial color in a seemingly healthy breakfast cereal. A good rule of thumb - if you can’t pronounce the ingredient in question, it’s best avoided.
The two classes of chemicals in plastics that are of concern are bisphosphenol A (a synthetic estrogen linked to a whole host of potentially serious health issues) and phthalates (which can disrupt hormones and has been linked to organ failure in young children). Choose glass containers instead for storage and never reheat food in a plastic container as heating releases potential toxins into your food. If you must really use plastic containers, then at least avoid those labeled with recycle codes #3 (which can leach phthalates) and #7 (contains BPA). For the same safety reasons, you should try to avoid plastic wrap and use aluminum foil or parchment paper instead.
Learn from many Eastern cultures and leave your shoes at the door. They can be vehicles for many toxins found in the outdoors such as lead, pesticides, not to mention fecal matter. North American culture tends to be a bit more informal when it comes to leaving shoes on in the house but that laxity is introducing potentially harmful substances into our homes, onto the floors and furniture that our families are in direct contact with.
In addition to the recent studies showing a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s, these compounds have been associated with a variety of cancers and other neurological conditions. One needs to be extremely cautious in their use. Instead choose homemade pesticide solutions such as neem spray or citrus oil/soap/water mixture and eucalyptus oil (there are many great websites with detailed recipes).
If you do use these for cooking then only use them on a lower heat setting. These types of non-stick coated pieces can release more than 15 toxic gases when the pans are heated to a certain temperature. For example PFCs (pre-fluorinated chemicals) which have been linked to a variety of cancers as well as liver, kidney and reproductive problems, are released from non-stick ware when overheated to 450 C. Be sure to discard any items that are showing signs of deterioration. A safer alternative is stainless steel pots and pans.
Dust is one of the main sources of our families exposures to toxic substances. Dust usually consists of shed human skin, food debris, pet hair, fibers from clothing, soil, pesticides and even lead and arsenic. A number of years ago a study examining dust from several houses was undertaken. Shockingly, they found 67 endocrine disrupting chemicals in the dust and air. So clean well and clean often. When you do so, vacuuming and wet mopping is preferable as opposed to dry dusting which simply recirculates the dust.
The social tide is changing and many more individuals are conscious about the impact that toxins present in our everyday lives have on our health. To minimize our exposure it may require significant shifts in thinking and lifestyle while others it will come more easily. Any positive change, however, will be a positive impact on the lives of you and your family, The key is to keep educated and up to date on this topic because although we try and do what’s best based on the knowledge that we have, there are new studies emerging frequently on the thousands of chemicals found in our environment, their interactions and cumulative effects. As this information becomes known, new lifestyle modifications may have to be incorporated in our attempts to live healthier lives.
More expert advice about Nutrition
Photo Credits: Nature Wallpaper by Flickr: tiltti; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com