Environmental Medicine Series III
As the Environmental Medicine blog series draws to a close, we are working our way from toxins found outside our bodies to those that are found inside. A main route of entry to ingested toxins is through the food and water we consume. As our environment and food supply have become increasingly complex and modernized, so too have our food choices. To eat well we must become educated about not only what is in our food (micronutrients, macronutrients, phytochemicals…), but also what isn’t supposed to be in it (pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and more).
These chemicals and agents can exert a variety of deleterious effects on mental and physical health; ranging from neurodevelopmental disorders, neurological and psychological complaints to hormonal imbalances, infertility, inflammation, cancer, obesity and insulin resistance.
Below are some key things to watch out for in the food you eat, the water you drink and how you store and prepare your food. Lastly, I will give you a resource to assess your body burden of toxins and tips on foods you can eat to boost your body’s detoxification capacity.
Produce (Fruit & Vegetables)
Whenever possible, opt for organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables to have the most vital and fresh foods. If organic is not available or is too costly, you can still relatively safely consume the following non-organic foods (known as the ‘Clean 15’): asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, pineapples, sweet peas, sweet potatoes and watermelon. If you can’t find the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables (apples, bell peppers, blueberries, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, kale/greens and green beans) in organic, it is best to eat something else! To download a handy guide of the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen Plus for your smartphone or to print, click here. Remember to wash all produce thoroughly (even if it is organic and even if it has a peel or rind that you will remove).
Choose organic, free-range or pasture-raised meat/eggs whenever possible to minimize your intake of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and poor quality fats (wild game and pasture-raised meat has a healthier fat profile than conventionally raised animals).
Opt for organic cow or goat milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products to minimize exposure to milk produced from cattle treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and to minimize exposure to antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.
Fish and seafood are touted as healthy foods, and properly selected, the omega-3 fat, lean protein and other nutrients they contain do make for a very healthy food. Fish that is lower in mercury includes Wild Alaskan salmon, Clams, Catfish, Scallops, Sole, Shrimp and Catfish. Smaller fish such as anchovies and sardines do not concentrate mercury as readily as larger fish and are thus some of the healthiest options. Shark, Swordfish, Sea Bass, Halibut, Tuna (except for albacore) and snapper are best avoided.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
We are at a pivotal point in the regulation of GMO foods in this country. Thus far, the FDA and USDA do not require mandatory labeling of GMO foods. California is in the midst of a potentially groundbreaking change in GMO labeling with Proposition 37, a bill that, if passed, would require labeling of all genetically engineered food. The safety of GMO foods is hotly debated and is beyond the scope of this blog post, but to revisit a principle mentioned in an earlier blog post, until we know more conclusively, perhaps the Precautionary Principle (as followed by Europe, Japan, Canada and several other countries) is best adhered to. Until labeling of GMO foods is mandated in this country, you can learn more about what foods have GMO ingredients in them by downloading the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.
To learn more about how to determine the safety of your water and how to filter or treat it appropriately, see my earlier blog post (Home Improvement for Health Improvement).*
Cooking your food with non-toxic cookware is imperative. Non-stick/Teflon pans are best avoided as they can leach toxins when heated (particularly if the coating is scratched). Microwaving food with plastic or plastic wraps is unwise as phthalates, BPA and other chemicals in plastic can readily leach into your foods once heated. Safe forms of cookware include stainless steel, ceramics, porcelain enameled cast iron, Pyrex glass and cast iron (provided your iron levels are not excessive and you don’t suffer from an iron storage disorder).
Food Storage Containers
It is hard to purchase foods without plastic anymore, but whenever you can find a food packaged in glass, paper or BPA-free cans, this is best. As chemicals found in plastic can readily leach into fat, fatty foods are the most important to buy/store in less toxic containers. Thus, BPA-free cans are most important for higher fat foods. Here is some information on food manufacturers using BPA-free cans. To find plastics that are BPA-free, look at the numbers on the bottom of the container (avoid numbers 3 & 7) and the see the following Guide for more.
Minimizing your toxic burden can have a huge impact on your well-being now and for years to come. Unfortunately in current times, most of us have some chemical burden from the environment we live in, our food and water supply, our homes medical interventions that we have had. Testing can be performed to most accurately assess your toxic burden, but to get a rough idea of your current body burden, you can take this Online Body Burden Assessment Test.
Foods You Can Eat to Promote Detoxification
There are several foods and culinary herbs and spices that support and optimize liver health, the key organ in detoxifying ingested chemicals. To boost your liver function, include berries, wolfberries, beets, green tea, broccoli and other Brassica vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, mustard greens, arugula, bok choy, watercress & more ), any dark green leafy vegetables, artichokes, brown rice, turmeric, chiles and rosemary into your diet.
If more intensive detoxification is needed, herbal supplements and a variety of other methods can be employed by a physician trained in Environmental Medicine.
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*References & Resources:
-Crinnon, W. (2010). Clean, Green & Lean. Get Rid of the Toxins That Make You Fat. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.*
-University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Continuing Education: http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/education/online_courses/enviro-med.html*
-Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/