I am currently writing a book called Reducing Toxins in Your Food. An Environmental Chemist’s Guide to Cleaner Eating. As I work on the book, I will be writing newsletters, blogging, and posting on social media (see links below), covering topics on where these toxic chemicals come from and how you can reduce your exposure to them. Coming soon: a newsletter, which will be posted most months.
Food is both essential for life and can anchor enjoyable experiences with friends and family. And what we choose to eat can range from super healthy to super not. But there’s another aspect to food that you may not be aware of. The food that we eat can be contaminated by hundreds of toxic chemicals. Figuring out how to avoid them can be overwhelming. While some of these chemicals are unavoidable without changes at the national and international level, there are many things you can do to reduce your exposure. I’ve posted several simple steps below to get you started.
Where do toxic chemicals in our diet come from? Pretty much everywhere — they begin by contaminating our food at the seedling stage and don’t stop until it arrives on our plates. As shown in the figure to the right, toxic chemicals can be added intentionally, as with the spraying of pesticides, or unintentionally, such as contamination from environmental pollution. The way food is handled can also contribute to contamination. For example, toxic chemicals can be added during processing, packaging, and cooking.
This topic can be a little overwhelming and scary, but I’ll post on what you can do to reduce your exposure and why it matters for your health and the environment. I’ll also post links to resources where you can learn more and get helpful tips. In addition to the occasional recipe hack, I will offer budget-friendly and easy suggestions for reducing your exposure, since not everyone can afford expensive or time-consuming solutions.
Because it will take me a couple of years to write the book, here are some suggestions for reducing your exposure in the meantime.
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet since animals bioaccumulate fat-soluble contaminants (PCBs, dioxins, etc.) into their fatty tissues, whereas plants are less likely to do so. Yes, sadly, that includes cheese.
- Choose organic whenever possible, especially for the produce items that are most contaminated with toxic pesticides. For a handy guide on which those are, download EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen produce lists.
- As Michael Pollan states in his Food Rules, don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. The best rule of thumb is avoiding food that comes with a long list of ingredients, especially those you don’t recognize. (I’m a chemist and I don’t recognize a lot of the stuff in processed foods.)
- Finally, skip plastic for cooking and storing your food. Best options are glass (pyrex and canning jars), stainless steel, and cast iron skillets. Glass and stainless steel are best for drinking water bottles as well.
Best wishes and I look forward to your questions as I work on this book.
Laurel J. Standley, Ph.D.
- Blog: https://laureljstandley.com/blog/
- Instagram: @DocLaurel
- Twitter: @Laurel_Standley
- Mastodon: @LaurelStandley@mstdn.social