Today’s guest post is by Janet Newman. Janet is the author of Living in the Chemical Age. She explores the impact of environmental toxins on our health and how we can reduce our exposure.
Doesn’t it feel like you’re learning of a new food or drink you shouldn’t put in your grocery cart every day? If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with the never-ending stream of grim news about our food and beverages: You are not alone.
The good news is there are simple, concrete steps you can take to make your needs for safe products known. If you speak up by changing your consumer habits, food producers will listen, because you are hitting them right where it counts—their bottom line.
For example, I used to buy a non-dairy creamer until I realized it contained carrageenan (a thickening agent) and titanium dioxide (used for whitening). I switched to a different brand that didn’t contain these additives and wrote a letter to the company telling them why.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. A lot of other people must have done the same because the company responded by removing the additives—and then changed the package labeling to say, “We listened. Now without carrageenan and titanium dioxide.”
This company made a change because consumers made a fuss, then turned around and used the change to sell more creamer! My lesson was learned: As consumers, we get what we put up with—so start speaking up!
Small Substitutions Make Big Impacts
Once I realized that change can come through consumer choices, I felt empowered to make other changes in my family’s consumption habits.
I replaced plastic storage bags with other types of containers for my kids’ lunches. Instead of plastic bags and storage containers, I now use stainless steel containers, cotton and Velcro snack bags, and stainless steel and silicone water bottles.
When storing food in my pantry and refrigerator, I use silicone storage bags and glass Mason jar containers with stainless steel lids.
Here are some additional recommended substitutions you can easily make that dramatically reduce the risk of toxic exposure in your kitchen:
- Swap aluminum and non-stick cookware for safer ceramic, glass, stainless steel, or cast-iron pots, pans, and bakeware.
- Use unbleached parchment paper instead of aluminum foil when cooking foods, as the aluminum can leach into food at high temperatures, especially when in contact with citrus, tomatoes, and certain spices.
- Opt for kitchen tools made from silicone as opposed to potentially hormone-disrupting plastic.
- If buying new glass food storage containers is cost prohibitive, consider washing and reusing your glass jars that once contained spaghetti sauce, jam, or pickles.
- How about buying some cool stainless steel drinking straws that can be put in the dishwasher and reused, instead of buying box after box of disposable plastic straws?
These products are healthier because they are toxin-free. They may seem more expensive to buy at first, but they’re reusable and last much longer, so they’re inarguably cheaper in the long run. That’s a trade-off I’m happy to make. Another bonus is I add less waste to the landfills since they’re all reuseable.
Now that you know some product swaps to consider, you’ll want to raise your awareness about the foods you’re purchasing.
Going Au Naturale
Did you know conventional strawberries are grown using more pesticides and other chemicals than almost any other crop? You can’t wash or scrub this stuff off delicate berries.
Strawberries do not face this problem alone; our country uses a massive amount of chemical pesticides on crops, so the best way to counteract this problem is to choose organic food whenever possible.
The one downside to purchasing organic is the cost—but organic produce isn’t always that much more expensive than conventional produce. In fact, in some markets, I have found it’s close to the same price.
At any rate, your best bet to save the most money is to buy seasonal, locally grown produce. If buying organic at your grocery store is too pricey for you, you should check out your local farmer’s market.
Oftentimes, local farmers haven’t paid the hefty price tag to label and sell their crops as organic, but they use organic and sustainable farming methods. So, by purchasing local, you’re getting high-quality, non-GMO, pesticide-free produce for conventional prices. Essentially, you get great fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting your local farmers.
Of course, the best way to ensure your food is chemical and pesticide free is to grow it yourself. Maintaining a backyard garden allows you to safely feed your family, and you control exactly what makes it onto your dinner table. Even if you’re working with limited space, growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs is still possible using pots or vertical gardens.
These options are all well and good for produce, but what about other foods?
You should still look for organic and grass-fed meat and dairy products. Doing so reduces the possibility of ingesting harmful hormones and antibiotics. For pantry items, you can seek out the Non-GMO Project Verified symbol. This symbol indicates third-party verification that a manufacturer isn’t including GMO ingredients in their product.
The changes I’ve shared above are quite achievable individually, but combined these suggestions can be overwhelming. Don’t panic! My suggestions is to make a plan and focus on eliminating your exposure to toxins one step at a time.
At the end of the day, remember this: Changing your consumer habits little by little to non-toxin products and foods carries long-term benefits that you’ll feel good about for your family’s health and your own.
About the Author
Janet Newman Ph.D. is a marketing communications consultant based in Austin, Texas. Her long-time interest in health and nutrition has led her to explore the damage hidden environmental toxins can do and discover ways to reduce or eliminate their impact. Janet has a Ph.D. in psychology and a master’s degree in social work. She is the mother of two active boys and enjoys gardening, writing, yoga, bike riding and cooking healthy meals for her family.