Today it is practically impossible to avoid toxins in our daily lives. We consume them in our foods, breathe them in our air, and absorb them through our skin. We each have the power, however, to minimize our exposure by the choices we make every day. The key to avoiding them is awareness. This post is the first in a series to raise awareness about the toxins we face in our modern world.
We begin with a look at the toxins in our food. This list, while not comprehensive, will help you identify some of the greater suspected evils:
- Pesticides—Designed to disrupt both the nervous system and hormone production of animals and plants, these killers are linked to many chronic health conditions as well as abnormal cell growth (cancer) in humans. To avoid heavy pesticide exposure, consider planting a home garden and use the Dirty Dozen list as a guide to know what is essential to be purchased organically: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/.
- Bisphenol A (BPA)—Found in the liners of canned foods and in many plastics, this toxin has been associated with reproductive problems, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and obesity. To avoid BPA, purchase products in glass containers, tetra paks, or BPA-free cans and minimize your use of plastics containing BPA. Never heat food in plastic or clean plastic it in a dishwasher.
- Sodium/Potassium Aluminum Phosphate—A common additive in processed foods such as pancake mixes and processed cheese, this nasty has been linked to reproductive, neurological (including Alzheimer’s), behavioral, and developmental problems.
- Sodium Nitrate and Nitrite—Found in processed meats such as cold cuts and bacon, this toxin is a known carcinogen. Don’t fall for the “no added nitrates/nitrites” label, as most have celery powder/juice which is high in naturally occurring nitrates.
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Hutylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)—Used to prevent fat spoilage (oxidation) in food and personal care products, these suspected carcinogenic preservatives have been associated with allergies, as well as organ and immuno-toxicity.
- Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/rBST)—Given to cows to boost their milk production, rBGH is suspected to increase abnormal cell growth in humans and may lead to added antibiotic usage in cows. To avoid these hormones, buy organic dairy products or products marked rBGH/rBST free.
- Antibiotics—Accounting for up to 80% of the antibiotics used in the US, these are commonly given to cows and other farm animals to increase their productivity by keeping them “healthy” as well as speed the animal’s growth. Use of antibiotics in this way is increasing the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria (which is a very bad thing). To avoid foods tainted with antibiotics, buy organic sources of animal proteins and fats, including dairy.
- Heterocyclic Amines—–These are carcinogens formed when cooking animal proteins at high temperatures. Avoid them by not exposing meat to an open flame or to a prolonged cooking time. Consider only “finishing” meat on a grill.
- Dioxins—This highly toxic environmental pollutant which reaches humans mainly through food such as meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish, is strongly linked to cancer and birth defects, as well as liver and immune system damage. Accumulating in the fatty tissues of animals, we can better avoid this toxin by trimming fat from meat and consuming low fat dairy.
- Artificial Food Dyes—These ubiquitous offenders in processed food and baked goods are linked to ADHD and other neurological problems. They appear on food and personal care product labels as: Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue), Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine), Citrus Red #2, Green #3 (Fast Green), Red #3 (Erythrosine), Red #40 (Allura Red), Yellow #5 (Tartrazine), and Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow). Look for natural dyes you can use at home, such as India Tree dyes.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil—This is a synthetic chemical used often as a flame retardant and can be found in many citrus and fruit flavored beverages/sodas. These drinks are filled with mostly empty calories, so just don’t drink them.
- Acrylamide—This carcinogen is formed when cooking or frying starchy foods, such as french fries and even toast, at high temperatures. Limit exposure by not overcooking or over browning starchy foods.
- Arsenic—See this article: http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/10-ways-get-arsenic-out-your-diet.
Other suggestions for avoiding food toxins:
- Avoid processed foods. Most processed foods are full of toxin-containing additives and preservatives, as well as sugar, salt, and trans-fats. Eat real foods rather than those created by a food scientist.
- Eat a large variety of veggies, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Increase your phytonutrient (plants) intake and eat less animal protein and animal fat. When choosing animal protein, buy grass-fed beef and dairy as well as pastured poultry whenever possible. Toxins accumulate in animal fat. Grass fed and pastured animals eating their natural diet are leaner and boast a better ratio of healthy fats to unhealthy fats than their corn and soy fed friends.
- Buy sustainable, wild-caught fish/seafood and avoid fish/seafood which is known to be tainted with mercury. This resource can help you make the best choices: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx.
- Sugar has proven to have even stronger addictive qualities than cocaine. It does, in fact, produce a very similar neurological response triggering the same dopamine receptors. There is myriad of evidence pointing to just how detrimental sugar is to our overall health. It stands to reason that it is best to avoid sugar as much as possible. Be aware that sugar is sugar and all forms will affect your body in similar ways.
- Trans-fats appear on labels as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. They are TERRIBLE for your heart and are found in the majority of processed foods even if the label reads no trans-fats: http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/the-myth-of-zero-trans-fat-cookies.html.
- The use of artificial sweeteners can backfire, making you crave more and more sweets. Plus, they are a science experiment…not real food. Pure stevia, a plant that I grow in my garden, is an exception if you can find it in it’s most unprocessed form.
- Finally, and this one is a bit of a soap box, avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). I firmly believe that biotech foods, as well as drugs and supplements, should have to be first proven safe for consumption rather than first proven unsafe for consumption. Proving something unsafe first seems a bit of an afterthought and rather late in the game to me. The biotech industry has used “tobacco science” to claim that GMOs are healthy. GMOs reduce bio-diversity by contaminating non-GMO crops and killing many pollinators (butterflies and bees). They pollute our water resources, increase the need for herbicides (though they will tell you the opposite), and are unsustainable. I am not saying there is no appropriate place in this world for SAFE biotech foods. What I am saying is: LABEL THEM, give consumers full disclosure, prove their safety and efficacy without smoke and mirrors, and let us decide whether we want to consume them or not. I’ll step off my soap box now…
As I mentioned this is not a comprehensive list. I would love to hear from our readers regarding thoughts on food toxins that I might have over-looked. And later this week, we are going to show you how you can detox daily! Stay tuned. ~A
References for this post include: The World Health Organization, The Environmental Working Group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mind Body Green, Web MD, and the Institute for Responsible Technology.