Sunday, November 18, 2007

Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Food and Environment

We are constantly exposed to a bewildering horde of artificial and natural poisons and toxins in our food and environment. The human body can properly handle small amounts of most natural poisons and toxins, but there are many new artificial chemicals for which the human body has not had time to evolve effective means of detoxification. All of these harmful chemicals can cause a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms and if exposure levels are high enough, serious complications like cancer or even death can result. The harm level of these chemicals can vary widely among individuals, influenced by health status, genes, and cumulative exposure effects. Most of these chemicals will cause serious harm in everyone at high enough concentrations. Some of these chemicals are actually nutrients that the body needs at low concentrations but become harmful if the intake is too high. The biggest problem, however, is the pervasiveness of these chemicals, such that individually they might not be a problem, but collectively, they can be overwhelming to our body.

So what can we do? It's nearly impossible to eliminate exposure to all potentially harmful chemicals. The best we can do is to learn where significant sources lie in our food and environment and try to avoid them. Also, if you can detect cause and effect relationships between symptoms and sources, you can avoid things that bother you.

There are a variety of actions you can take to lessen the toxic burden. Eat organic vegetables and fruits and fully pastured or wild animal foods for starters. Minimize sweets and foods high in omega-6 fats. Minimize highly processed commercial foods that are often full of artificial additives such as artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and artificial trans-fats. Don't eat spoiled food or any food that does not taste good. Minimize consumption of large fish, like albacore tuna or swordfish, which often have high levels of mercury. Avoid processed meats preserved with nitrites (including those with added "celery juice" that have hidden nitrites). If your water supply has added chlorine or fluoride, get water filters that remove these and other contaminants. Use only plastics with recycle numbers 2 HDPE, 4 LDPE, or 5 PP. Don't use teflon or aluminum cookware. Be very careful in choosing skin, hair, and mouth care products (EWG has excellent helpful information). Don't get "silver" amalgam dental fillings and properly remove any that you may already have. Avoid vaccines and long-term use of medications. Don't use commercial pesticides or herbicides.

For those of you who may do all these things and still have sensitivity issues, an elimination diet may be helpful for determining problematic foods. Some seemingly healthful foods can have salicylates, amines, or other natural food chemicals that cause unpleasant symptoms in sensitive individuals.

Below is a partial list of some of the more common poisons and toxins with links to more information.

Antibiotics - a double edged sword
Pesticides - in produce


Food Additives
Artificial Colors
. annatto - yellow food color
Artificial flavors
. MSG (free glutamate) - flavor enhancer
. ribonucleotides - flavor enhancers
Artificial Trans-Fats
Dough Conditioners (mono and diglycerides)
High Omega-6 Vegetable Oils
Sugar-free sweeteners
. aspartame (nutrasweet)
. sucralose (splenda)
. saccharin
. cyclamate
Sugar alcohols
. mannitol
. sorbitol
Sugars - how sugars can ruin your health
. sucrose (table sugar)
. dextrose
. HFCS - health hazard
. proprionates
. nitrites
. sulfites

. botulinum
. aflatoxin
. alcohol

Natural Plant Chemicals

Biogenic Amines


aluminum - vaccines, anti-clumping agents
arsenic - pesticides, antibiotics
copper - also a nutrient
lead - glazed pottery, old paint
mercury - hazards, dental fillings, vaccines, large fish
nickel - some stainless steel cookware
selenium - also a nutrient
zinc - also a nutrient

bromine - flour, antacids
chlorine - water
fluorine - water, toothpaste, pesticides, tea
iodine - kelp, also a nutrient

propylene glycol
. bisphenol A (BPA)
. polycarbonate (#7 PC)
. polystyrene (#6 PS)
. polyvinyl chloride (#3 PVC)
. pthalates

Other Chemicals
acrylamide - baked and fried starchy/sugary foods
asbestos - insulation and flooring in some older homes
carageenan - thickening agent in foods and skin care products
dioxins - a case for vegetarianism?
formaldehyde - vaccines, plywood, carpets
perchlorates - rocket fuel, fireworks, chlorinated water
polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) - fire retardant
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) - fire retardant
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) - combustion product
teflon - cookware

Comprehensive Harmful Chemical Listing from EWG

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