Healthy Food Sources
Nutritionists concur that eating organic, local, seasonal foods is the healthiest possible diet. Finding convenient sources for inexpensive, healthy food can be a challenge, especially if you live in an urban area. However, the demand for better food sources is growing and if you look around a bit, you will probably be pleasantly surprised. Among your best choices are farmers’ markets and CSA programs. Localharvest.org has an extensive listing.
There are also a growing number of natural food grocery stores, and most conventional grocery stores have devoted at least one aisle to healthy foods…now that’s something to ponder! A terrific resource and growing national chain is Whole Foods Market. Other natural food stores can be found here, and shoporganic.com is a resource for organic groceries online.
Of course, if you have the means to grow your own – a small patch of land or patio in the sun – you will never find a more nutrient dense food than that you pick off the vine. Lots of fruits and vegetables grow really well in pots, and herbs can be grown on a windowsill or added to a sunny border in the landscape. Gardening can be as simple as that, and is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise!
Healthy Food Choices
Whole, unprocessed foods are best, preferably organic. Avoid sugars and artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, dyes, preservatives, synthetic hormones and other artificial ingredients – in fact, the healthiest foods to eat don’t even have an ingredient list!
Fruits and vegetables are important building blocks of a healthy diet, but if you only have conventional produce to choose from, the Environmental Working Group has created a useful Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides which is based on data from more than 6,953 produce samples collected in 2014 and collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to the guide, the following fruits and vegetables have low pesticide residues and are always good choices:
Avocado had no detectable pesticide residues on 99% of the samples tested.
Sweet corn and cabbage likewise did not hold many pesticide residues.
89% of pineapple, 78% of mango, 73% of kiwi, and 62% of cantaloupe samples
had no detectable pesticides.
For a more comprehensive list of conventional fruits and vegetables with the lowest (and highest) pesticide residues, see EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
Because of current practices in raising animals for human consumption known as “factory farming,” it is best to look for organic “free-range” or “grass-fed” meat, poultry, and dairy products. By following this rule, you are avoiding antibiotic and hormone residues as well as other additives that may be used as color or preservatives.
Cooking Food Safely
What we cook our food in and how we cook it can make a big difference in preserving nutrients and avoiding health risks. The following resources offer a wealth of information on the subjects of non-stick cookware, acrylamide, and grilling and microwaving food. Best to keep in mind the “Simple rules for cooking to preserve nutrients or avoid unwanted fats: Steam, don’t boil. Bake, don’t fry.”
Storing Food and Packaging
It is important to store food in a container or packaging that does not leach potentially harmful and unwanted chemicals. Clear plastic wrap is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a recognized human carcinogen, and contains phthalates – chemicals that are known hormone-disruptors. Because phthalates are not chemically bound
to the plastic, they are easily released into food. Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen-mimicking chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastics, is found in thousands of consumer products, from baby bottles to store receipts to canned goods. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are synthetic chemicals often found in food packaging to make it water and grease resistant. They are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to humans.
These chemicals are all currently being studied for their many adverse health impacts, and there is concern that their widespread use in the food industry is exposing the general population to possible health risks on a continuing basis.
Good alternatives to plastic wrap are unbleached deli/bakery sheets, waxed paper and parchment paper. Glass and stainless steel storage containers are always a safe bet, and it’s wise to transfer food packaged in plastic to one of these. Sustainablefoodservice.com is a resource for lots of biodegradable packaging. Plastic bottles labeled “BPA-free” are now found everywhere, but they are often using BPS, a chemical that has similar health concerns. Choosing glass or stainless reusable bottles makes it simple. PFCs are unfortunately widely used in take-out and processed food paper containers, so it’s a good idea to read up further on how to avoid exposure. Links to information and some more valuable resources are below.
Clean, fresh water is fundamental to human health.
From pesticides to industrial spills, excess nitrogen to naturally occurring radioactive materials, both surface and underground drinking water sources are vulnerable to contaminants. And even when public water supplies are good, many people still want to eliminate disinfection chemicals and fluoride.
Water purification devices are easy to install on your kitchen sink, and require little maintenance. It’s most important to remember to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing the filter! Using a glass or stainless steel water bottle and filling it with your own filtered water makes the most sense and has the added benefit of not contributing to the scourge that plastic water bottles have become on this planet. A whole house filter will eliminate the chlorine from all your water sources, including sinks, showers, tubs, washing machines and outdoor spigots.
Personal Care Products
Just like any other purchase, young kids and teens want to use the same personal care products as their peers, the ones with the coolest marketing sound bites and attractive packaging. Buyer beware! Chemicals in personal care products can be inhaled, accidentally ingested, and can be easily absorbed through the skin directly into the bloodstream. From there, they can wreak havoc on many different body systems, especially when used daily.
Think of personal care products like you would food – do I really want this in my body? The good news is that there are lots of non-toxic personal care products to choose from, from shampoo to nail polish, moisturizers to hand sanitizers.
Cleaning and Laundry Products
The cleaning products you use in your home, from chemical solvents to air “fresheners”, can contribute significantly to indoor air pollution. Our modern, airtight and energy efficient homes can add to the problem. These chemical exposures in our daily lives fall into the category of chronic low-level exposures, and this is worrisome to some environmental health professionals who are studying health impacts, especially on our children.
It is important to remove harsh chemicals from your child’s environment. Artificial fragrances are made from synthetic chemicals and are widespread, especially in laundry products. Beware of any product that says it contains a fragrance, even if it claims to be “natural.” Only essential oils are truly natural fragrances, and even these can cause reactions in allergic and asthmatic individuals.
The products listed below are VOC-free and do not contain any chemicals that are known to cause health problems, even in those who suffer from respiratory illnesses. Many of these manufacturers carry a complete line of products, from glass cleaners and scouring cleansers to dishwashing and laundry detergents.
Lawn pesticides are powerful poisons containing chemicals that have been linked to a myriad of serious acute and chronic diseases. According to the EPA, no pesticide can be considered safe, even when used as directed. Children are uniquely vulnerable to lawn pesticides because of their typical behavior, which includes playing and rolling on lawns and
putting unwashed hands in their mouths. Studies show that lawn pesticides can also find their way into homes through open screens and the soles of shoes, where they can accumulate in carpeting and dust. Lawn pesticides that are designed to breakdown by sunlight, water and soil microbial activity can remain active inside homes for long periods of time. Please teach your child to stay off lawns that display pesticide application flags.
Indoor Pest Control
With the current effort to make our homes airtight and more energy-efficient, we have to think seriously about indoor air quality and the chemicals we use inside our homes. Along with furnishings and cleaning products, indoor pest control products need to be carefully selected. Professional exterminators typically use sprays and powders which can persist inside your home for many months, long after the pests have been eradicated. Pesticide residues can be especially hazardous for infants who are still crawling, as well as young children who play on the floor.
Seek pest control companies who use non-toxic solutions, and research on the internet the many natural insect repellants that often work better than chemical poisons.
Everybody in the Pool
With the myriad of safe and natural pool water treatment options today, you no longer have to worry about chlorine, algaecides and chemical clarifiers. More good news is that many public pools are controlling pathogens and keeping pool water clear without the typical harsh chemicals. See the links below for natural pool maintenance and other ideas for pools.
EMR and EMF Radiation
Wireless technology is developing so rapidly it is hard to keep up with its impact on our lives. From cell phones to wireless transmitters, smart meters to smart appliances, we are now living in a world where exposure to radio frequency (or microwave) radiation is unavoidable. The question about whether it is safe has yet to be answered. The U.S. has regulations only on levels of EMR that can cause thermal (heating) effects on our bodies, but other more worrisome effects, including cellular damage, neurological effects and electrosensitivity have yet to be thoroughly researched. Taking precautions is the best way to navigate this environmental exposure.
EMF radiation that is transmitted through power lines and electrical appliances in your home is a little easier to control. Move furniture around so your child isn’t sleeping against a wall where an outside electric meter is located, or close to electrical items like clocks and radios. Proximity is the guide here – don’t spend a lot of time close to electrical appliances or small electric items.
Here are some simple ways to reduce your exposure:
• Use a land line instead of a cell phone or cordless phone when possible.
• Use the speakerphone setting on cell phones.
• Limit children’s use of cell phones. Young children should not use them at all.
• Unplug any domestic wireless transmitter when not in use, especially at night.
• Do not install wireless routers in children’s rooms or play areas.
• Avoid wireless baby monitors and cordless phones which use similar wireless technology.
• If possible, use hard-wired internet connections in your home instead of wireless transmitters.
From simple closet organizers to home extensions, always consider the materials that will be used, because you will be living in the same house with the chemicals they are made of or treated with. It’s not always easy, but try to use materials that have zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that will not “outgas” or volatilize into the air. For instance, solid pine shelves painted with a zero-VOC paint instead of particle board or pre-made wire shelving coated with PVC. There are natural choices for insulation, walls, floors, and finishing materials widely available today. If it costs just a little more, it is well worth the peace of mind
Children today are growing up in a sometimes overly stimulating electronic world, and this needs to be balance by spending time in the natural world, and engaging in creative and hands-on activities. Parents who encourage unstructured outdoor playtime and seek outdoor educational activities for their children see
positive effects almost immediately, so take advantage of any opportunities to have your child enjoy a breath of fresh air. Research also affirms that some form of exercise is beneficial to pediatric patients while undergoing treatment as well as during recovery.