1. Avoid Pesticides; Go Organic
The problem: Many conventional fruits and vegetables carry pesticide residues. Twenty-three of the world's 28 most commonly used pesticides are suspected carcinogens, and several are possible neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. Consuming conventional dairy products and meat can expose you to the hormones used on food animals, which may be linked to endocrine disruption. May be linked to: cancer and endocrine disruption.
The solution: Buy organic foods, grown without toxic pesticides, when you can. If you're on a tight budget, avoid conventional fruits and vegetables that carry the highest amounts of pesticide residue: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. Eating organic also gives your immune system a boost. A study at the University of California-Davis found that organic produce has 19 - 50 percent more cancer-fighting anti-oxidants than conventional produce.
Visit the National Green Pages™ category: food
Check out our articles:
Eat Less Meat; Cool the Planet
Organic or Local? Which is Best for People and the Planet?
9 Ways to Support Sustainable Food
The Skinny on Alternative Sweeteners
2. Genetically Modified/Engineered Foods (GMOs)
The problem: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are becoming more and more prevalent in our food supply, but they haven’t been definitively proven safe for human health and the environment. In fact, an increasing number of animal feeding studies have demonstrated possible links between GMOs in our food and kidney and liver damage, as well as an increase in tumors. While more studies are needed to prove that GMOs can harm people, no one has proven that GMOs are safe, either. What we do know is that GMOs are responsible for an increased use of toxic pesticides. Data from 1996-2008 from the USDA, analyzed by the Organic Center, showed that GM crops resulted in a 318.4-million-pound increase in overall US pesticide use.
The solution: Buy organic. USDA-certified organic foods prohibit the use of GMOs, as well as toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. You can also look for foods that are tested verified as non-GMO (containing less than .9 percent GMOs) by the Non-GMO Project. Finally, avoid non-organic processed foods that aren’t verified non-GMO, as they are highly likely to contain genetically modified organisms—particularly corn or soy.
Check out our articles:
GMOs and the Case for Precaution
4 Big Problems with GMOs
9 GMO Ingredients to Avoid
Green America’s GMO Inside campaign
3. Purge Plastics
The problem: Plastics often contain toxins that can leach into food, especially when heated.
When plastics are created, manufacturers will often include “additives” to enhance their performance, according to a 2009 study by Mike Neal and Dr. Anthony Andrady (published in Philosophical Transitions B). These additives include fillers to make the plastics stronger, thermal stabilizers to allow them to be heated, plasticizers for pliability, UV stabilizers to keep them from degrading in sunlight, fire retardants, colorants, and more.
In short, all plastics are a veritable soup of chemicals, and all are capable of containing toxins, depending on a given manufacturers secret plastic “recipe”. In fact, a July 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at 500 diverse types of commercially available plastics, from baby bottles to food packaging, and found that especially when exposed to heat, they release estrogen-mimicking hormone disruptors, regardless of their recycling code numbers. The study authors also note that a single plastic part may contain five to 30 chemicals, and a plastic item made up of many parts may contain up to 100 chemicals.
The solution: Purge plastic from your life in favor of reusable glass and stainless steel alternatives. While it’s likely difficult to get rid of all plastic, there are plenty of options to help you get rid of wasteful, single-use plastic—especially for food and beverage items.
Could You Go Plastic-Free?
11 Easy Ways to Kick the Plastic Habit
4. Be Cautious with Your Cookware
The problem: Non-stick pans with Teflon or Teflon-like coatings contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which break down into the air at high temperatures. Aluminum can also find its way into your food through cookware. Though exposure to aluminum has not been linked definitively to any adverse effects like Alzheimer's disease, it is thought wise to avoid extra exposure. Linked to: cancer.
The solution: Stainless steel and cast iron are both safe alternatives to non-stick and aluminum pans. Non-stick anodized aluminum pans have a layer of aluminum oxide to prevent aluminum leaching.
Updated April 2015, originally published in the Spring 2008 issue