We Are What We Eat: 10 Tips for Clean and Healthy Eating
Quite by accident on our parts, chemicals – including pesticides – all too often end up in our family meals.
This is because there are no established limits to the number of different pesticides your food may have been treated with and often contamination comes from the interaction of chemicals, where again there are no standards.
Little research has been conducted on the impact of the toxic chemical soup that lands in our food, water, and air. Body burden studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control consistently find pesticides in Americans’ blood and urine.
We all need to do as much as possible to reduce pesticide exposure to our children and to adults.
Following these tips for healthy eating can make a difference!
1. Buy Organic Produce
Emory University researchers have found that elementary school-age children’s body burdens of pesticides peaked during the summer when they ate more fresh produce, produce that had been treated with pesticides. But just five days after switching to an all-organic diet, their bodies were essentially pesticide-free (Lu 2006).
We all need to increase our organic fruit and vegetable intake as much as possible. Several websites offer detailed guidance and data on reducing your produce pesticide load.
Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Clean Fifteen™ lists fruits & vegetables with the least pesticide load: Corn, onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, eggplant, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. Note: This only means they have smaller pesticide loads. They are not pesticide-free.
The EWG’s Dirty Dozen™ includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, bell peppers.
Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA)’s What’s On My Food? is a searchable database designed to help you understand pesticide risks in relation to health issues of major concern, including cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity or hormone disruption. PANNA links pesticide food residue data with the toxicology for each chemical, making this information easily searchable.
Beyond Pesticides asks you to choose a crop on this chart to see which pesticides may be used in its production. Food choices based only on Pesticide Residues Fall Short. While the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen alerts consumers to hazardous residues on some foods, food residues are only part of the story. The “clean” foods may still be grown with hazardous pesticides that get into waterways and groundwater, contaminate nearby communities, poison farmworkers and kill wildlife, while still not showing up at detectable levels on our food.
2. Go organic beyond fruits and veggies
Whenever possible eat organic dairy, poultry and meat, beans, nuts, grains, oils, and other products.
3. “Natural” does not = Organic
Don’t be hoodwinked by misleading labeling – “natural” products can include products grown with pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Some products include organic ingredients but may also include ingredients that are chemically processed or grown with pesticides. Whenever possible go with 100% organic!
While we’re at it… eating organic ensures you are not eating unlabeled products with GMOs. Choosing products that are Certified Organic AND Non-GMO Project Verified is the best way to make sure you are getting the safest, healthiest, highest-quality food for your family.
4. Eat wild/smaller fish
Generally speaking, wild-caught and smaller fish that aren’t bottom feeders tend to carry fewer pesticides. Safer fish include mackerel (North Atlantic, Chub), anchovies, sardines, clams, wild Alaskan salmon, tilapia, and black sea bass. Reduce or eliminate the most contaminated fish from your diet, such as ahi tuna, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, and orange roughy.
5. Buy organic in bulk
Shop the bulk bins. Processed, packaged, and prepared foods generally cost more. Less packaging = less cost.
6. Consider joining a Maryland Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group
CSAs have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. A CSA farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically, the share consists of a box of vegetables but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The MD Organic Food and Farming Association lists organic CSAs in Maryland. Check out one of their farms closest to you.
7. Buy local, seasonal produce at Farmers Markets
Buying seasonal produce from local farms can also reduce your pesticide exposure. Produce that comes from a distance is more likely to have post-harvest chemicals than those from your local farms.
8. Avoid canned food
Unless canned products expressly state they are BPA-free, they are not. BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical. It’s best to buy products that are in glass jars, fresh or frozen.
9. Nix plastic containers
Choose glass or stainless steel for food storage instead of plastic containers that can leach toxic chemicals. Whenever plastics can’t be avoided, choose safer plastics: #1 (PETE), #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE), or #5 (PP). Look for the number in the chasing arrows triangle often on the bottom of a product. These are the safest and most commonly recycled plastics. You can also look for products packaged in plant-based plastics like PLA. Avoid the most toxic plastics: #3 (PVC), #6 (PS), #7 (PC).
10. Choose or make your own organic baby foods
Protect your baby from exposure to pesticide residues in baby foods. Buy organic or consider blending/food processing for homemade baby food and store it in ice cube trays to freeze small portions.
We have the power as consumers to protect our family’s health. We can vote with our wallets and our forks for safer food and a safer world!