PROTECT Yourself: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Food and Drinks

1. Purchase organic foods whenever possible.

Many pesticides act as endocrine disruptors and are known to affect brain development and neurological function in humans. Buy organic as often as possible to reduce your family’s exposure to these chemicals. If you do eat non-organic meat and fish, avoid the fat and skin, as persistent organic pollutants — chemical substances that are harmful, persist in the environment for long periods of time, and biomagnify as they move up the food chain — concentrate there.

2. Learn the pesticide content in non-organic produce.

The fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide load tend to be apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, and, while those with the lowest pesticide load include onions, frozen peas, cabbage,  pineapples, frozen corn, avocados. If your budget for organic is limited, spend that money on organic fruits and vegetables that normally carry the highest pesticide load. Peel fruits and vegetables that are not organic. For more information, check out EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15,” updated every year.

3. Avoid eating starch-rich foods that are heated to high temperatures, as the cooking process produces acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen.

French fries are among the most popular of these starch-rich foods.

4. When grilling foods, minimize char by reducing the heat level and using marinades.

Char contains PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to cause mammary tumors in animals andreproductive harm, and to reduce the body’s ability to fight disease. In the Long Island Breast Cancer Study, women who had more DNA damage from PAHs had a higher risk of breast cancer. In addition to char, other sources of PAHs include combustion from fireplaces, stoves and heaters, cigarette smoke, outdoor air pollution, and auto exhaust.

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Image credit: Photo by Erika Wittlieb in Pixabay.