You are what you eat—and, it turns out, you are also how you store, cook, and serve what you eat and drink.
- Use heat-resistant glass or lead-free ceramic containers in the microwave. Some plastic containers contain chemicals that mimic or disrupt hormones, and when these containers are heated, harmful chemicals can leach into your food and drink. The label “microwave safe” means safety for the container, not necessarily for your health.
- Store acidic food and drink in glass or lead-free ceramic containers rather than plastic ones. Acidity in food and drink helps chemicals leach from the plastic.
- Purchase organic foods whenever possible. Many pesticides act as endocrine disruptors and are known to affect brain development and neurological function in humans. Buy organic as often as possible to reduce your family’s exposure to these toxics. If you do eat non-organic meat and fish, avoid the fat and skin, as persistent organic pollutants—chemical substances that are toxic, persist in the environment for long periods of time, and biomagnify as they move up the food chain—concentrate there.
- Learn the pesticide content in non-organic produce. According to the Environmental Working Group’s FoodNews guide, the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide load tend to be peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, and strawberries, while those with the lowest pesticide load include onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes, and frozen peas. If your budget for organic is limited, spend that money on fruits and vegetables that normally carry the highest pesticide load. Peel fruits and vegetables that are not organic.
- When grilling foods, minimize char by reducing the heat level and by using marinades. Char contains PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to cause mammary tumors in animals, to cause reproductive harm, and to reduce the body’s ability to fight disease. In the Long Island Breast Cancer Study, women who had more DNA damage from PAHs had a higher risk of breast cancer. In addition to char, other sources of PAHs include combustion from fireplaces, stoves and heaters, cigarette smoke, outdoor air pollution, and auto exhaust.
- Use pots and pans that are steel clad, enameled, cast iron, or anodized aluminum and avoid nonstick coatings. Such choices will help you avoid perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical used in manufacturing some products with nonstick and stain-resistant coatings. PFOA, which is found in the blood of most Americans, has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals.
- Further reduce your exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, by reducing the amount of time your food is stored in packaging made with it. This carcinogen is used in the production of food packaging to make it resistant to grease, such as packaging used for pizza, microwave popcorn, and hundreds of other foods.
- Use a solid-carbon-block water filter on your kitchen faucet to filter drinking and cooking water. This step is especially critical if your tap water is chlorinated or may be polluted by wastewater, such as from an upstream sewage treatment plant or upgradient septic system. To learn what’s in your water, explore the Environmental Working Group’s National Tap Water Quality Database,or ask your water supplier for test results.
- Avoid products made from polystyrene. Styrene, a suspected carcinogen, is primarily used in the production of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, used in plastic packaging, disposable cups, and other containers. Especially avoid storing acidic food and drink—such as tea with lemon—in polystyrene containers, as they can help the styrene leach into your food and drink.
- Avoid eating starch-rich foods that are heated to high temperatures, as the cooking process produces acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen. French fries are among the most popular of these starch-rich foods.
- Avoid plastic water bottles with a “7” in the triangle on the bottom, as they contain bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor. Also avoid any containers with No. 3 (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) and No. 6 (polystyrene). If you use plastic containers rather than glass ones, choose those that contain polyethylene (Nos. 1, 2, and 4) and polypropylene (No. 5), as their additives appear to be less toxic.
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