Avoiding Environmental Toxins
Many of us are concerned about the adverse health effects of environmental pollutants such as agricultural pesticides and industrial chemicals. In recent years, there have been bans on certain chemicals, as well as ongoing research into the effects of others. The federal government took a major step when they implemented national standards for organic produce in October 2002. While the specific health effects of most pesticides and environmental toxins have not yet been established, the research to date indicates that low dose exposure to industrial chemicals and pesticides does present a significant risk to human health.
Endocrine and nervous system disorders, as well as many cancers, are just some of the health problems that have been linked to long term, low dose chemical exposure.
The idea that organic produce is healthier than produce grown with agricultural chemicals has mostly been based on the absence of environmental toxins rather than a higher nutritional profile. But could organic produce also have additional health benefits that produce grown with pesticides is missing? According to UC Berkeley, a recent study found organic fruits and vegetables to have more phytochemicals than conventionally grown produce (produce grown using pesticides.) Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that have numerous health benefits. One theory behind this interesting discovery is that phytochemicals act as the plant’s natural pesticides. When synthetic pesticides are used, the plant has less need to produce its own defenses and thus produces less phytochemicals.
In a perfect world we would eat only organically grown foods with their abundance of healthy phytochemicals and absence of toxic residues. Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to choose organic produce.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental research organization, has developed the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” This is a handy guide to which produce items are highest and lowest in pesticides, so that if you are unable to buy organic, you can at least make informed decisions about the conventionally grown produce that you consume. For more information visit www.foodnews.org
Produce highest in pesticides:
- Bell Peppers
- Grapes (imported)
- Red Raspberries
Produce lowest in pesticides:
- Corn (sweet)
- Peas (sweet)
In addition to awareness of chemicals in your produce, there are many other simple steps you can take to avoid exposure to environmental toxins:
- Reduce your consumption of processed foods.
- Processed foods usually contain additives and preservatives as well as being lower in nutrients than their whole food counterparts.
- Reduce your consumption of meats and high fat dairy products. Because toxins accumulate as you go up the food chain, replacing meat and animal products with whole grains, beans, soy products, fruits and vegetables will also reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. This is not to say that you need to follow a vegetarian diet, but consider reducing your overall intake of animal products.
- Microwave your food in glass or ceramic containers rather than plastic to avoid leeching of chemicals into the food.
- Reduce the number of household cleaning products that you use. Look for the biodegradable alternatives widely available in health food stores. Use non-toxic cleaning products, such as baking soda, that are already in your home. Many companies that sell environmentally-friendly cleaning products have great cleaning tips on their websites.
- Reduce the number of personal care products and cosmetics that you use. These products may contain harmful chemicals. You can also look for products that contain non-toxic alternatives. However, be aware that the term “organic” is not regulated on non-food items and “natural” doesn’t always indicate a better product. Read the labels and see how many ingredients you