With more than 84,000 chemicals legally for sale in the US, it’s not surprising that our air, food, water, and homes are toxic environments that may be compromising our health.
After all, toxins can wreak havoc on our bodies – they mess with hormones, cells, immune function and mental health.
While we can’t control every exposure we have to chemicals, we can certainly control a lot of what we’re exposed to in our own homes.
Where better to start than where we prepare our food? From cookware to coffee, discover the hidden sources of toxins in your kitchen.
Canned foods are incredibly convenient aren’t they? Canned tomatoes are a pantry staple, used in everything from curries to soups; canned fruit makes a quick and reasonably healthy snack or dessert; and canned soup is ideal for those days when cooking is too much effort – unless you intend on cutting down your sugar intake.
But when you eat these canned foods, you’re getting something else that’s not listed on the label – a type of plastic which lines the can, known as BPA (Bisphenol-A).
To quote Dr Mercola BPA is ‘fine, if you ignore most studies on it’!
This scary chemical is believed to disrupt hormones and even mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body.
While the FDA have previously claimed that BPA in food packaging is perfectly safe, in 2010 they altered their position, stating they had ‘some concerns’ about possible effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and young children.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who ate canned soup for five days saw their urinary levels of the chemical BPA rise by an incredible 1,200% compared to those who ate fresh soup.
Numerous studies have linked BPA with:
- Infertility in women, by affecting egg maturation
- Depression in kids, due to prenatal exposure
- Breast cancer, by disrupting the genes that defend against cancer growth
- Heart disease – those with BPA in their urine are more likely to have heart disease
- Type 2 Diabetes, by promoting insulin resistance
- Erectile Dysfunction and Low Libido in men
Are you sold on the health-destroying abilities of BPA yet?
If so, you can avoid this chemical, particularly in relation to food, by buying products that come in BPA-free packaging.
Be especially vigilant when it comes to canned goods – look for BPA-free on the label, or buy those packaged in glass jars instead. Buying fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned is another alternative – and most likely the best option.
Outside of the kitchen, you’ll find BPA in dental fillings and sealants, dental devices, medical devices, eyeglass lenses, DVDs and CDs, household electronics and sports equipment.
Plastic Storage Containers
It’s not just BPA plastic that is a concern – other plastics that are deemed safe for use with food are considered a health risk too.
A 2011 study showed that most plastic products trigger an estrogen effect. Of the 455 common products tested (even those that were BPA free) 70% showed some sort of estrogenic activity. Alarmingly, when subjected to conditions like microwaving and dishwashing, that number jumped to 95%.
A common type of plastic used in food packaging are phthalates – which are associated with changes in development of the male brain, genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults.
Soda bottles, water bottles and cooking oil bottles are all made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. They leach acetaldehyde – a probable human carcinogen, according to the EPA – into our food and drinks.
At a time when so many of us are concerned with buying organic food, we need to be more aware of how we store that food.
There’s little point paying a premium price for chemical-free food if we’re going to store it in a plastic lunchbox which will simply leach similar chemicals into it. Instead try this 10 Piece Glass Food Storage Set.
Single-Cup Coffee Makers
In a nutshell, most single-cup coffee makers (like Nespresso, Keurig, and Dolce Gusto) contain plastics in both the machine and the pods – including BPA.
Given that simple dishwashing causes plastic to leach chemicals out at a higher rate, what effect does passing almost boiling water through the plastic coffee pods do?
Of course, mixing this with acidic coffee grounds may expose us to even more chemicals.
Aside from chemicals, these coffee makers are just plain unhygienic. In a test of 28 machines, over half of them contained in excess of 4 million colonies of harmful bacteria and mold.
If you can’t forgo your morning caffeine kick, investing in an alternative coffee maker is a good idea. Check out some of the options listed here.
Aluminum has long been linked with degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A look at the brain autopsies of elderly persons found them to have aluminum levels 20+ times higher than a middle-aged group.
Research shows that cooking meat in aluminum foil increased levels of aluminium by up to 378%, depending on cooking temperature and times.
Not just confined to foil, this chemical is also found in cookware, canned foods, reusable metal water bottles, salt additives in cake and pancake mixes, self-raising flours, pickles and even processed cheese.
It’s so pervasive that a study, published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, was carried out on 1,431 non-animal foods and beverages, to determine aluminum content.
Researchers found that 77.8% percent had an aluminum concentration of up to 10 mg/kg; 17.5% had aluminum concentrations between 10 and 100 mgkg; and 4.6% had aluminum concentrations in excess of 100 mg/kg.
While it may not hurt you to be exposed to a little aluminium now and then, who knows what the long-term, cumulative effects will be?
Teflon, a type of perfluorinated chemical (PFC) actually releases toxic gases at high heat. Not exactly an ideal product to have coating cookware is it?
What is considered ‘high heat’ you wonder?
DuPont, inventor and manufacturer of Teflon, recommends that 500F is the maximum you should be heating Teflon to.
Less than 2 minutes of pre-heating will see a lightweight, empty pan reach that temperature.
The toxic fumes released at this level have actually killed pet birds in DuPont lab experiments. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), these toxins also cause humans to develop flu-like symptoms, known as ‘Teflon Flu’.
PFCs have been found in nearly all Americans tested by federal public health officials.
These types of chemicals are associated with:
- High cholesterol levels
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Liver inflammation
- Poor immunity
- Smaller birth weight & size in newborn babies
Ditch the non-stick and go with stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead – such as this Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware. Your body and your pet budgie will be grateful!
Anti-Bacterial Hand Wash
About 75% of liquid antibacterial soaps and 30% of bars use a chemical called triclosan as an active ingredient.
You may remember triclosan as one of these 12 toxic skincare ingredients to avoid.
Not only does it interfere with hormone function in animals but it may interfere with fetal development, and has been linked with weight gain, allergies and thyroid dysfunction.
Anti-bacterial products have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is currently a huge global health concern, according to the World Health Organisation.
While the FDA has ordered anti-bacterial product manufacturers to prove their health benefits or remove them from the shelves by 2016, don’t wait until then.
Rid your kitchen of this toxic chemical by replacing any anti-bacterial cutting boards, soaps, dishwashing liquids, wipes and hand gels with standard boards and instead use tried and trusted Castile Soap and water.
You can learn more about ways to use Castile Soap here.
While it may not be a surprise to hear that household cleaners are toxic, it may surprise you to learn just how toxic they really are.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, cleaners are among the most toxic products in the home.
In 2000, cleaning products were responsible for 206,636 calls (nearly 10%) of all toxic exposures reported to US Poison Control Centers.
While you can check labels for words like ‘warning’, ‘danger’ or ‘poison’ to try assess the danger level of the chemicals in your kitchen, a New York Poison Control Center study found that 85% of product warning labels are inadequate.
Plus, these warnings only refer to the immediate threat posed by the products – they don’t highlight the long-term, cumulative effects of these toxins.
Some examples of the harmful effects of common kitchen cleaners include:
- Oven Cleaners – these contain lye (sodium hydroxide), an extremely corrosive chemical which can cause severe burns to the skin or eyes. Inhalation can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.
- Window Cleaners – contain the powerful solvent 2-butoxyethanol. This can cause sore throats when inhaled, and at high levels contributes to narcosis, and severe liver and kidney damage. An expert warns if you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, you may end up exposed to levels that exceed workplace safety standards.
- Kitchen Counter Sprays – along with containing an array of toxic chemicals including carcinogens and hormone disruptors, these sprays, even when used occasionally, may raise the risk of getting asthma symptoms, say researchers.
Luckily, natural kitchen cleaners are one of the easiest things to make with most revolving around just four simple ingredients: lemon oil, baking soda, vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Check out these 40 Green Cleaning Tips for Every Room in Your Home for precise recipes.
Fruit and vegetables can be a significant source of chemicals in your kitchen – and in your body, as you may have discovered from our post on the importance of eating organic.
In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture tested 3,015 produce samples – nearly 75% of which contained pesticide residues. The EWG calculates that the tests found a total 165 different pesticides on the samples.
This is incredibly worrying, given some of the toxic side effects of pesticides. They have been linked to health concerns like Parkinson’s disease, cognitive problems in children and even cancer.
Buying organic, or growing your own produce, are the only ways to eliminate a significant amount of these pesticides from your body.
You’ll also be avoiding GMOs by sticking to organic foods. Genetically modified produce has been linked with:
- Immune problems
- Accelerated aging
- Problems regulating insulin
- Changes to major organs and the gastrointestinal system
Buying organic need not cost as much as you might think! Check out these 11 great tips for buying organic on a budget.
If you’re getting rid of your non-stick pan, you might think that non-stick cooking sprays are a good alternative. Plus, they have no calories.
But, check the list of ingredients and you may see a few that surprise you – like dimemythlpolysiloxane and propellants.
Dimemythlpolysiloxane keeps the oil from foaming. While no major studies have been carried out on this chemical, it’s also found in Silly Putty – not something you want in your stir fry!
The FDA allows dimethylpolysiloxane to be preserved by several different chemicals that don’t have to be listed on the label, including formaldehyde – a highly toxic substance linked to allergies, brain damage, cancer and more.
Propellants used include butane, isobutane and propane. These colorless and odorless gases propel the spray out of the aerosol bottle. There isn’t much evidence out there regarding the safety of these when used in food products. Nonetheless, minimizing exposure to food additives and chemicals is always wise.
Take Out & Convenience Food Packaging
Between toxic canned food, cooking sprays and non-stick pans, cooking toxin-free at home may seem like a bit of a challenge right now.
But ordering take-out doesn’t seem to be any better.
Meat trays, foam take-out food containers and cups which are made from polystyrene actually leach styrene, which can damage your nervous system, into your food.
And, just like Teflon pans, PFCs are found in take-out boxes and the paper used to wrap pastries – they are what give these wrappings their grease-proof coating.
Takeout is a nice treat now and then but if you’re having it regularly, just remember you’re adding to the chemical load your body is exposed to.
If this list of products seems a little overwhelming to you, don’t worry. The sheer volume of chemical we are exposed to daily is overwhelming!
In order to make long-term and permanent changes to your lifestyle, it’s best to do so gradually.
Why not pick one item a week to eliminate from your home? Or, as your conventional products are used up simply replace them with chemical-free or homemade ones instead.