What to Look for on Food Labels
When it comes to stocking our pantries and fridges, there are quite a few health worries worth taking seriously and a number of product types you’ll want to avoid — or at least study in greater detail before buying.
For a start, many canned foods contain bisphenol-A, also known as “BPA.” It’s more common in pastas and soups than in canned fruits and vegetables, but it’s worth keeping your eyes open anytime you’re stocking up for a long winter. BPA is used to treat metal cans and prevent them from corroding, but scientists have linked it to disruptions in human hormones. It might not sound like much, but in mimicking the effects of estrogen, BPA can effectively “reprogram” cells and prevent them from carrying out their functions properly.
The long list of what to look for on food labels also includes, unsurprisingly, pesticides. Decades ago, the companies that manufactured the active ingredients in chemical weapons applied their same “better living through chemistry” mantra to pesticides. Consequently, a huge amount of our produce now contains pesticides and herbicides that are linked to ADHD in children as well as chronic respiratory problems and multiple types of cancers.
You’re most likely to find pesticides in apples, peaches, nectarines, celery, bell peppers and berries like grapes and strawberries. The list is quite a lot longer, unfortunately — and one of the only reliable ways to protect yourself for sure is to eat organic produce as often as you’re able. It might sound like a hard pill to swallow thanks to the oftentimes higher prices, but our families’ health has to come first.
How to Spot Harmful Substances at Home
It’s pretty likely you’ve heard about how harmful the gamut of plastic-based products can be. But you might not know that even some of the most common ones, like vinyl, contain chemicals that positively correlate with chronic diseases like cancer and even birth defects.
There are alternatives on the market. Instead of the more common plastics, seek out liquid silicone rubber parts and products for use around the kitchen and the home. Unlike ordinary plastics, LSR is hypoallergenic, resists the growth of bacteria and is chemically inert. For additional protection against the chemicals that leech out of common plastics, use glass food storage containers for your leftovers and avoid non-stick pans as much as possible.
When it comes to cooking, cast iron or copper pots and pans are solid choices, as they don’t contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA was commonly used in non-stick Teflon until 2013, which means if you haven’t upgraded your kitchen implements in a while, you might be subjecting your family to a compound associated with, among other things, thyroid cancer, infertility and liver disease.
Unfortunately, there are many more harmful substances at home that you can take measures to protect yourself against — more than we could discuss in detail here. Another big one is the large family of flame-retardant chemicals that make their way into children’s products and couch upholstery. The year 2014 saw the U.S. government relax their flame retardancy requirements for furniture makers, but that doesn’t mean every company out there has chosen to pivot away from using them just yet.
If you absolutely need a new living room furniture set, it’s worth your while to investigate the companies that interest you, thoroughly, up to and including calling them for further details about the “additives” they apply to their fabrics.
How to Eliminate Your Exposure to Harmful Chemicals in Cosmetics
If there was one health scare that likely caught your attention over the last few years, it was the panoply of lawsuits against women’s cosmetics and baby products manufacturers. Talc and talcum powders have been household staples for, quite literally, centuries. Unfortunately, it appears that these companies knew for years that talc exhibited convincing links with ovarian and other types of cancers and lung damage in babies — and continued to sell it anyway.
You’re far better off turning to cornstarch, tapioca starch or baking soda. They have the same desiccant properties as talc and oftentimes even the same physical consistency.
Parabens and phthalates are also of concern among users of makeup and other cosmetic products. Parabens (look for “ethylparaben” and “propylparaben” on shampoo, makeup and moisturizer labels) are used as preservatives, but they have been observed as a contributing factor in early onset puberty and breast cancer.
Phthalates, meanwhile, are also found in shampoos as well as perfume and nail polish. While the FDA hasn’t officially weighed in yet, reams of anecdotal evidence suggest they wreak havoc with human hormones and cause “ovarian aging,” a higher resistance to insulin, low sperm count and some types of cancers.
If there’s an alleged harmful effect of chemicals in cosmetics that regulatory bodies definitely don’t consider controversial, it’s formaldehyde. You’ll find it in many nail polishes, perfumes and hair products. The National Toxicity Program has positively identified it as a carcinogen and the Environmental Working Group assigned it a “10,” which represents their strongest warning against its use. Its effects range from difficulty breathing and chest pain all the way up to nasal cancer and, when used on children, is even linked with the development of allergies and asthma.
Freeing Ourselves from the Harms of the Chemical Substances Used in Daily Life
If you want a textbook example of the friction between reasonable regulations and profit motives, look no further than the battle to kick these chemicals off our menus, out of our medicine cabinets and all the way to the curb. Half of the struggle comes down to individuals taking a keener interest in their health and their purchasing habits. The other half will require us to take back our oversight bodies from regulatory capture.
The good news is, even if progress has been slow, the market is delivering alternatives to many of these secretly harmful products — so long as you know where to look and, in some cases, you don’t mind paying a premium for your peace of mind.