Health Articles

Healthy Ways to Detox Your Kitchen

An earlier article I wrote on safe house cleaning garnered such a huge response from readers that it inspired me to write about how to clean and detox your kitchen, specifically. Now a new report, entitled “Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention,” shows just how important it is to minimize our exposure to chemicals and toxins. Please don’t assume this discussion is only for women; breast cancer is a disease that affects men as well.

Remember, too, that breast cancer is not the only form of cancer linked to chemical and toxin exposure. As far as I’m concerned, it’s true of just about every form of the disease. For example, exposure to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastic food containers, may be linked to the following conditions:

  • Prostate cancer, which rose by an astonishing 85% between 1975 and 2002
  • Heart attack
  • Angina
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Polycystic ovarian disease

A major U.S. study found that more than 90 percent of adults have detectable levels of BPA in the bloodstream, so this is not an isolated problem, nor is it one that is likely to go away any time soon. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA and similar toxins.

So in today’s newsletter, we’ll look at some ways to clean up and detox your act with a special focus on the kitchen. Why the kitchen? Because this is where many chemicals enter our bodies, primarily through the following:

  • Plastic used for food storage
  • Chemicals in cookware
  • Toxins and chemicals in our water supply

The chemicals in question make up an alphabet soup of acronyms and initialisms, but the primary culprit is BPA, a widely distributed hormone disrupter that upsets the delicate balance of testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones. In addition to playing important roles in male and female reproduction, these hormones are essential for repairing cartilage, managing inflammation, and performing a long list of other important functions.

In addition to finding measurable bloodstream levels of BPA in our population, research proves that avoiding BPA lowers those blood levels within a matter of days. It does take some effort on your part, but you’ll be rewarded with better overall health.

Let’s look at how you can reduce your toxic load, including BPA and related chemicals, starting today.

At the Supermarket

Walk through any grocery store and what do you see, aside from food? Acres of plastic. It’s used for packaging processed and prepared foods, frozen food, meat, fish, and produce. Yes, it’s convenient and inexpensive, but much of that material also sheds BPA onto your food. It’s difficult to avoid BPA and similar toxins, but it can be done. Here are some ways to do that:

Protect Your Produce

In the produce aisle (a place where I hope you spend a lot of time), it’s fairly easy to avoid plastic.

The Problem:
Some supermarkets provide small brown paper bags for produce purchases, but they’re often hidden below the bins where few people see them, while the plastic bags are right in front of us.

The Solution:
If your store does not offer paper produce bags, you have several healthful options:

  • Paper lunch bags make good produce bags.
  • BPA-free plastic bags come in a variety of sizes for produce.
  • Ziploc plastic bags and Saran Wrap are BPA-free, according to the manufacturer, SC Johnson.
  • Glad plastic storage containers are BPA-free, according to the manufacturer.
  • BPA-free cellophane, cotton, or fabric bags are available online and work well for shopping and food storage.

If none of these options work for you, just place the produce in your cart without a plastic bag, and put it in a BPA-free bag when you get home.

To further minimize your exposure to plastic, ask for paper bags for all your purchases, or take reusable cloth bags with you from home.

One more thing — try to avoid handling the thermal paper receipts printed by the store’s cash register. They’re contaminated with BPA.

Be Careful with Canned Goods

The Problem:
As I wrote in my earlier newsletter on detoxification, many canned goods and beverages contain BPA, which leaches from the can straight into your food, especially soups and pastas.

The Solution:
Some manufacturers now line their cans to prevent BPA from migrating into food. If you can find these products, they are a far better choice than conventional canned goods.

It may take a little detective work to locate BPA-free canned goods. Some food companies are still making the transition, but others, such as Eden Organics, have been selling BPA-free packaged food for some time. I suggest asking your grocery store manager for help identifying these safer products, or visit the websites of canned foods and drinks you enjoy and ask about BPA.

Another way to avoid BPA is to purchase food or beverages in glass jars or aseptic containers, such as Tetra Pak cartons, which are widely available in supermarkets. Tomatoes and tomato-based products, as well as soups, are often packaged in these containers.

Use Caution with Plastic Bottles and Food Containers

The Problem:
Not all food packaged in plastic is safe to consume without worrying about BPA.

The Solution:
Check the bottom of the container for the recycling label. If possible, buy only products with numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. Those numbers indicate the plastic is free of BPA. Avoid numbers 3, 6, and 7 when you can because they are more problematic in terms of chemicals leaching into food or beverages.

And remember, never microwave food or beverages in plastic containers because heat can cause plastic molecules to migrate into food.

In the Kitchen

Most of us work hard to ensure our kitchens are clean and safe for food preparation. But here again, there are some surprising sources of chemical contaminants in most kitchens, specifically in cookware and food packaging.

Use Safer Cookware and Avoid Packaged Products

When nonstick cookware was first introduced decades ago, it seemed like a miracle — no more scrubbing stuck-on food from pots and pans! No wonder millions of people bought nonstick products, which soon expanded from pots and pans to cookie sheets, cake pans, and cupcake tins.

The Problem:
Now, research shows the downsides of nonstick cookware and certain food packaging. The price we pay for these conveniences is a release of chemicals — including PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) — when these items are heated. PFOA and PFOS are used in nonstick cookware and some packaged foods, such as microwave popcorn.

The Solution:
I highly recommend replacing any nonstick cookware you own with safer choices, such as cast iron, anodized stainless steel, enamel, or glass. Similarly, if you enjoy popcorn, buy an air popper and avoid the chemicals, fat, and salt in the microwave variety.

Beware of Some Frozen Foods

The Problem:
Some frozen foods are packaged in trays designed for heating in the microwave. These trays may contain BPA or phthalates, a plasticizing chemical linked to genital deformities and other health issues. Also, frozen meals are typically loaded with sodium as well as unhealthy fats and chemical ingredients that are best avoided.

The Solution:
Do yourself a favor and freeze leftovers of your own healthy meals in glass or ceramic containers designed for reheating without damaging your health.

Watch Out for Contaminated Water

Back in the day, no one worried about what might be lurking in tap water; that was a concern only in third-world countries. Times have certainly changed.

The Problem:
Water in most urban and rural areas is contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, dangerous microorganisms, bacteria, parasites, industrial chemicals, and even pharmaceutical drugs.

To make matters worse, bottled water is not much better, even though it costs far more than tap water. The bottled-water industry keeps consumers in the dark about the source of the water, how it’s purified, and test results. And you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the federal government allows this questionable behavior to continue. But what can you do about it?

The Solution:
As regular readers know, I consider proper hydration to be one of the cornerstones of good health. I recommend all my patients drink a number of ounces of water equivalent to half their body weight every day. (In other words, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should be drinking 90 ounces of water daily.) But the water you’re drinking must be clean and properly filtered. And the same goes for your bath water. Yes, that warm, relaxing shower can be a significant source of contaminants capable of penetrating your skin. That’s why I searched out safe, affordable filters for both drinking and shower water and made them available to my readers.

Please don’t be discouraged by the thought of all these chemicals in food and water. It may seem as though they are inescapable. But the key is to reduce your exposure, not eliminate it entirely. Take it one step at a time, and before you know it, your toxic load will be lighter, and your health will be much improved. As my patient Jonah learned, detoxification is a process, and the sooner you begin, the better.

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