Don’t eat microwave popcorn and other simple steps to reducing your exposure to toxins in your food.

Sometimes I feel like I have become one of those paranoid alarmist people who worries about the world coming to an end in 2012 or did that already happen? I didn’t use to be that person, but ever since I read an article in the New York Times about flame retardants in our furniture there has been no going back. 

It turns out that as a result of the rise in domestic fires back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, due to people falling asleep with cigarettes in their hands, the tobacco industry, rather than alter their cigarettes, created an essentially bogus fire safety commission to look into it. They came up with the brilliant idea to dump toxic chemicals onto virtually every piece of furniture, mattresses, upholstery, car interiors, airplane seats, household electronics and even baby mattresses sold in the U.S. so that we would be safe from fire. These chemicals, chlorinated tris and PBDEs are endocrine disruptrors that cause genetic defects and genital malformations in newborns, infertility and thyroid cancer among others.
Then I heard a show on NPR where they discussed the chemical industry in the U.S. and that of the 84,ooo industrial chemicals found/produced in the U.S. only 200 have been tested for human safety by the EPA. Here a chemical is assumed safe unless proven otherwise and who is going to prove otherwise? The great news is that California and Maine no longer require the use of flame retardants in furniture so hopefully that will have an effect nationally and they will be eliminated from furniture at least. Of course the chemical lobby is doing a great job of selling chemicals to China and other manufacturing countries so it will still be a long road to flame retardant-free homes.
You might wonder what the big deal is? For one thing many American mother’s have chemical flame retardants in their breast milk which is not good for a developing baby. Flame retardants have been found in foods that are rich in fat like butter, peanut butter, bacon and salmon. In the wild, flame retardants have been found in Antarctic penguins, Arctic orcas, owls and fish. It’s everywhere and it doesn’t degrade very quickly. In fact it’s designed not to.
And there are many more harmful chemicals that are used in food packaging and preparation. You would assume this couldn’t be the case because it is FOOD and we eat FOOD so the FDA and EPA must regulate that… but they don’t … at least not enough. So what is a person to do? I notice that many people find this news overwhelming and think “something is going to kill you so no point in worrying about it.” This is true. There is no point in worrying, but many cancer researchers like at the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts believe that these chemicals are the main reason for the rise of cancer in this country. So here are some things to think about and limit the use of if you can. Even small changes for the better will help. Baby steps as Furman always says.

10 simple steps to reducing your exposure to toxins in your food. 

  1. Buy organic foods whenever possible. Many pesticides are endocrine disruptors that effect brain development and neurological functions. This is also a challenge when eating out because you can assume that the majority of restaurants do not use organic foods.

  2. Store your food in glass containers when possible so the chemicals from the plastic don’t leach into the food. Even plastic that is not heated is volatile.

  3. Avoid plastic water bottles with a 7 on the bottom as they contain BPA which has been associated with negative effects on brain development, breast cancer and prostate cancer.  And please don’t leave your plastic water bottle sitting in a hot car.

  4. Use glass or ceramic dishes to microwave food. Don’t microwave food in plastic containers or plastic wrap. And don’t heat up your Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks coffee in the takeout cup! The chemicals will leach into your coffee. Every day at my office I see people doing this. :( One researcher from Silent Spring Institute told me that takeout coffee cups are coated in a grease resistant chemical that is carcinogenic so she always brings her own ceramic mug.

  5. Avoid Styrofoam cups and takeout containers. It’s horrifying that hot greasy foods are dumped into Styrofoam. Furman ordered Thai chili duck from our favorite Thai restaurant a few weeks ago and the deep fried duck arrived in a melted Styrofoam container. Yes melted from the duck! Which means that those chemicals were absorbed into the duck. Horrifying!

  6. Limit your intake of canned foods like tuna and canned tomatoes. Cans are lined with an epoxy resin that contains BPA. It’s really hard to cut out canned goods altogether, but use fresh or frozen foods when possible and dried beans.

  7. Eat in. People who eat out a lot have higher levels of BPA because restaurants tend to use lots of plastic in the cooking process — heating things up in plastic, and storing hot food in plastic. Many fine restaurants will make large batches of a dish and dump the hot food into individual-portion flimsy plastic containers which causes the chemicals to leach into the food. At Panera bread I have seen them take small sealed plastic bags of soup, heat them up in a microwave and dump it into a bowl like it was fresh made.

  8. When grilling foods, limit the amount of char on the food. Char contains PAHs which are known to cause mammary tumors in animals, reproductive harm and reduce the ability’s body to fight disease. PAHs are also found in combustion from fireplaces, cigarette smoke and auto exhaust.

  9. Don’t eat microwave popcorn. Microwave popcorn bags are lined with a known carcinogen called PFOA to make it grease resistant. It’s also used on pizza boxes and hundreds of other food packaging products.

  10. Another reason not to eat French fries. Starch-rich foods that are heated to high temperatures in the cooking process, like french fries and potato chips produce acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen.

So don’t be overwhelmed, just slowly start adopting some of these suggestions and you will make huge strides towards reducing your risk of disease.