We’re exposed to toxins when we take a deep breath, nibble a bite of food, or just go about our day-to-day activities. Alas, our bodies create their own toxic byproducts as a result of biochemical processes in the body. The truth is: toxins are everywhere. Fight back the next time you go grocery shopping!
Battle of the burden
For millennia, the human body’s detoxification systems—including the liver, kidneys, skin, and lungs—have been able to keep pace with the byproducts of living. But with hundreds of new synthetic chemicals being introduced into foods, body care products, and home supplies, the burden has become too much for our bodies to handle without a little help.
Compare your body to your refrigerator. Week after week you fill your refrigerator with groceries and leftovers. If your family is like most, some items get pushed to the back and forgotten about. Eventually, if you don’t watch out, you’ve got expired yogourt, wilted lettuce, and you’re doing your own mold experiments on unidentifiable food products. There comes a time on everyone’s chore list to empty and wipe down that refrigerator. Likewise, with all the stuff your body has to deal with, it frequently needs a thorough cleaning too.
Cleansing can help
As a result, many natural health care practitioners advocate regular cleansing or detoxification programs to help cleanse the body of junk and restore balance. No matter what sort of cleanse we choose, it will undoubtedly involve two steps: first we must minimize our exposure to toxins, and then we clean up the ones that have accumulated. Since many of the toxins in our bodies arrive in the foods we eat, we can reduce our intake significantly by making better choices at the supermarket.
Here’s a guided tour around the market that will help to detoxify your shopping cart—with suggestions for items to buy and others to leave on the shelf.
You’ve likely heard that the most nourishing foods are found in the outside aisles of your grocery store, but you might be surprised to learn about health hazards skulking even there. While experts agree it’s wise to load up on fruits and vegetables, be aware of the possible health dangers lurking in the produce department.
Chemicals used on conventional produce, including herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, still remain on the produce from farm to market to kitchen. (In fact, Health Canada has established limits on how much of an individual chemical is allowed to remain on the produce after harvest.) And these chemicals have the potential to pose serious health risks. Atrazine, for example, is used on corn and is known to cause developmental effects in utero, as well as affect the endocrine and reproductive systems.
Other pesticides, including the pyrethrin family, are linked to skin problems, digestive disorders, and neurological challenges. These are just two of dozens of dangerous chemicals listed on Health Canada’s website.
As often as possible, opt for organic produce to limit your exposure to chemicals. Although there may be some concern as to whether organic produce is always 100 percent chemical free because of winds, water runoff, and sometimes packaging practices, organic produce is cleaner and will help to lower your toxic burden.
When organic isn’t an option, choose foods with a thick peel that’s removed before eating, such as pineapple, avocado, citrus fruit, and kiwi, which are not considered as high risk as other conventionally farmed produce. Likewise, choosing local, in-season produce may also help to reduce your exposure to waxes and fungicides used to keep well-travelled produce preserved for long distance journeys.
You remember the pesticide atrazine mentioned earlier as a danger in the produce aisle? Because atrazine is used on corn, which is a popular feed for livestock, this pesticide is also present in eggs, meat, and cattle products. Of course, atrazine is just one chemical that may end up in livestock, and government regulations allow a percentage of these compounds to be present in finished meat products. To reduce your exposure, opt for organic meat, dairy, and eggs.
If your shopping trip involves bagged lunch items, you may want to skip the deli counter. Lunch meats often contain chemical flavouring agents, colours, and preservatives that add to your toxic load and may trigger reactions such as migraine headaches.
Cold meats, hot dogs, and bacon may also contain nitrates to prevent spoilage. Unfortunately, these nitrates combine in your stomach with amines (formed by the breakdown of protein) to create nitrosamines, known carcinogens. Nitrosation can also occur in response to tobacco smoke as well as some pharmaceuticals and personal care products, so be sure to include vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries to your daily menu. Vitamin C may reduce the impact of nitrosamines.
When it comes to fish, focus your intake on varieties containing the lowest levels of mercury. Choose from wild anchovies, herring, mackerel, perch, wild salmon, sardines, and whitefish.
Many of us would prefer to avoid genetically modified foods, as only time will tell the health impact they could have on us. Unfortunately, Health Canada does not require companies to specify whether ingredients used in their prepared foods are genetically modified. Instead, look for labels used by conscientious corporations declaring that their ingredients are non-GMO. Further, certified organic products cannot be genetically modified, according to government regulations, so look for the Biologique Canada Organic logo when you pick up your groceries.
Canned and bottled goods
There are plenty of toxins to watch for in canned products. Health Canada finally acknowledged that bisphenol A (BPA) is a toxin linked to hormone disruption, and plastic bottles made with BPA have since been phased out. Unfortunately, many canned goods are still lined with a BPA epoxy. When you purchase canned goods, look for those with “BPA-free” on the label.
Once you’ve eliminated packaging toxins from your cart, it’s time to focus on the contents of the cans. Even so-called healthy foods such as canned vegetables and soups often contain chemical preservatives, flavour enhancers, artificial colours, and artificial sweeteners meant to make the product more appealing. Read the label, and remember the first rule of toxin avoidance: if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or don’t know what it is, leave the product on the shelf.
Likewise, look to the label to determine the amount of sodium and sugar in your canned goods. Remember that any word ending in “ose” is a sugar (glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, etc.). Most North Americans consume excess sugar, which is a factor in inflammation,
immune system impairment, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Be conscious, as well, of the recommended serving size found on products. We often assume a can of soup, for example, is one serving, when it usually contains two or more. Consuming the whole can, therefore, could meet your daily sodium or sugar intake in just a single meal.
No matter how carefully you’ve loaded your cart, you aren’t safe yet. Some cash register receipts are a known source of BPA. Ask your retailer if there is BPA in their receipts and when wearing gloves isn’t an option, be sure to wash your hands as soon as possible after checking out.