I will openly admit I love cheese puffs, cheese curls, pretty much any kind of baked cheese snack – the more neon in color, the better. I also really love artisanal cheeses – and, oddly, cheese puffs, cheese curls, and their brightly colored cousins really taste nothing like any type of real cheese. How do we come to crave these fake flavors? (I know I’m not the only one). More importantly, when did food become so un-natural?
And, our food hasn’t simply become more synthetic than ever before, it’s also laced with ingredients and contaminants that pose distressing health risks. They aren’t like salmonella, e-coli, or other pathogenic pollutants that can cause immediate illness or even death. These toxic impurities are more insidious – subtly causing harm over time.
Reduce your exposure to unwanted ingredients by following these 10 tips to detoxify your diet.
1. Ease up on animal fats. Animal products can contain synthetic hormones, antibiotics and organochlorine chemicals, such as dioxin, DDT and other pesticides, which concentrate in animal fat. The same chemicals that accumulate in animal fats are transferred to our own when we eat them. Then they linger there for years quietly causing damage. When you buy meat, poultry or dairy, look for low fat options (get the unsaturated fats your body needs from plant sources like walnuts, flax seeds, and avocados). Trim all fats and skins and broil meats and fish so that the fats drain away. Avoid frying, which will lock in the contaminants. You can also do your body a favor by reducing how much meat you eat. Making even one vegetarian meal a week can make a big difference.
2. Select safer seafood. Eating seafood is the primary way we are exposed to methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin. Fish can also be contaminated with PCBs, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency have declared a probable carcinogen. Use the Environmental Defense Fund’s Safe Seafood Selector to find species that are lowest in chemical and heavy metal contamination and that are fished in ways that are not harmful to our Oceans. Or access the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, one of the more popular seafood guide’s online, who have now made it possible to get their website information with ease when you’re standing in front of the seafood case by using their free iPhone app.
3. Go organic. According to the Environmental Working Group, you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90 per cent simply by avoiding the most contaminated conventionally grown produce: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. If you’re really craving one of these foods, opt for organic. Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that have the lowest levels of pesticide residue include: onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato, and sweet potato. You can download the EWG pocket guide that lists these and the dirty dozen from Foodnews.org.
4. Prep your produce. Wash all fruits and vegetables well to remove surface chemicals (and pathogens). It’s easiest and most efficient to wash everything right when you bring it home. You should even wash foods with inedible peels – like melons, bananas, and oranges. If there’s a contaminant on the surface, you can get it on the knife you use to cut it or on your hand, and then spread it to the part you eat.
5. Ban the can. Canned foods and beverages are lined with a resin that contains bisphenol-A, a hormone-disrupting chemical that’s building up in our environment and our bodies. Most manufacturers are beginning to explore safer alternatives, but in the meantime you should choose foods that are fresh, dried or frozen or packaged in glass jars or tetra packs.
6. Bulk up. Bulk foods are often less processed so you reduce your exposure to questionable food additives. Buying it bulk can also save you up to $500 a year! Bulk cook staples like beans and other legumes and store them in your freezer in serving sizes that are appropriate for your family size. You can also buy dried pasta, nuts, seeds, and many other staples in bulk.
7. Cook your cuisine safely. If you enjoy grilling or well-done meat, be advised – you are adding to your cancer risk. Grilling creates smoke laden with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which end up on the surface of whatever you’re cooking. When meat, chicken and fish are cooked at high temperatures for a long time (aka “well-done”), it creates carcinogenic heterocyclic amines, or HCAs.
8. Read a food label – for real. Ever stop to read the ingredients label on packaged, processed foods? It’s usually a mouthful of words most of us have a hard time pronouncing, so what exactly are you eating? You can learn which food additives are safe and which are not by visiting The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s food safety guide, but it’s even easier to simply choose whole foods. Whole foods are not processed, so they have all their natural nutritional gifts. Look for foods made from whole grains (think whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice) – and it should say “whole” on the label. Make more foods from scratch (it’s easier than you think). You’ll end up saving money, eating healthier and reducing all the waste created from packaging and processing foods.
9. Wet your whistle with water. Americans drink an overwhelming amount of sodas, sports drinks, energy boosters, juices (that often contain little juice), and other bottled beverages. The first problem with this is that most of these drinks are loaded with sweeteners and artificial flavors and colors. The second is that they’re bottled in plastic, which can leach additional chemicals into the drink. Your body is 70-75% water, so hydrate it with water! And, skip the single-use bottled water. Again, it can be contaminated by the plastic bottle. Also, it’s less regulated than tap water. Make an investment in a water filter and reusable stainless steel water bottles. They quickly pay for themselves.
10. Eat-in more often. When you eat at a restaurant or pick something up from a deli you have very little control over what you’re getting. Save money and protect your health by making food at home. When you do go out, make healthier choices.