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EWG's Healthy Home Tips

Tip 2 - Eat organic & fresh foods.

EWG's Healthy Home Tips: Tip 2 - Eat organic & fresh foods.

Most people prefer their foods free of pesticides and toxic chemicals, for obvious reasons. Pesticides and toxic chemicals are increasingly linked to serious health problems – especially for our children, whose developing bodies are more vulnerable to chemical exposures.

We'd like to believe that our government is policing the safety of our food and the containers it comes in, but it’s not.

Our advice is to limit your family’s exposure to:

1. Pesticides. Buy organic or low-pesticide fruits and veggies
2. Two common toxic chemicals - BPA and PFCs - by avoiding food containers that contaminate
3. Growth hormones by choosing more natural meat and dairy products

1. Why should you avoid pesticides?

avoid pesticidesYears of research have shown different pesticides to be associated with a variety of health problems, including:

  • Cancer
  • Hormone disruption
  • Abnormal brain and nervous system development

Young children and pregnant women are especially at risk. Pesticides are unique among chemicals released into the environment because they are toxic by design. Their sole purpose is to kill living organisms that are considered “pests” - insects, plants and fungi.

How to avoid pesticides on your food

  • Buy organic when you can. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, so when you eat it you’re not also eating toxic chemicals. As it should be.
  • Don’t use pesticides to grow your own food. More and more Americans have backyard and community gardens. Use natural techniques – not pesticides - to manage pests.
  • When you can’t buy organic, buy less-contaminated conventional produce. Every year EWG ranks popular fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residues found on them. For example, apples and celery top our "Dirty Dozen" list, so buy those organic, but sweet corn, onions and pineapple are all in the "Clean 15," so you can feel better about buying those raised conventionally.
  • Download the guide and the handy iPhone app at Donate today and we'll send you our Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce wallet guide to say thank you.


2. Avoid containers and packaging that contaminate food with two common toxic chemicals - BPA and PFCs.

Buy fresh to minimize packaging

EWG recommends eating foods that have been processed as little as possible. Processing techniques detract from nutritional value, and chemicals from food packaging can leach into what you’re eating. For food packaging we recommend avoiding bisphenol A (BPA) and the Teflon and Scotchgard family of perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

What is BPA and why should you avoid it?

Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, is a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics (like some baby and water bottles) and in the epoxy resin used in can linings. It was found in the bodies of 93 percent of the Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. In laboratory tests trace BPA exposure been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and trigger a wide variety of disorders, including chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy.

As with many toxic chemicals, infants and young children are at the greatest risk of harm because their bodies are still developing. The National Toxicology Program has expressed concern that children’s exposure to BPA may lead to problems with brain and reproductive system development and behavior.

Limit your exposure to BPA from canned foods and plastic containers

  • Canned foods. Almost all canned foods sold in the U.S. have a BPA-based epoxy liner that can leach BPA into the food inside. Pregnant women and young children, especially, should limit their consumption of canned foods to avoid BPA. Here’s how:
    • EWG Baby Bottle GuideIf you’re feeding your baby infant formula, use powdered formula because it has the least BPA. If you’re set on liquid formula, choose a brand sold in plastic and avoid ready-to-eat formula, which has the highest levels. Read more from EWG on safely feeding your baby.
    • Buy fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned.
    • For canned veggies and fruits, choose glass bottles where available; the lids may contain BPA but less than cans.
    • For canned beans, consider choosing Eden Foods brand because the cans are BPA-free. Or soak and cook dried beans – it’s a little more work but also less expensive.
    • In a pinch, rinsing canned fruit or vegetables may reduce the amount of BPA you ingest.
    • Make a special effort to avoid canned prepared foods like pastas and soups. We have found that they tend to have higher levels of BPA.

  • Simple precautions can minimize exposure to BPA and other chemicals that leach from plastic containers and water bottles:
    • Use glass or a BPA-free plastic baby bottles.
    • Avoid polycarbonate containers (marked with a #7 or ‘PC’), especially for children’s food and drinks.
    • We recommend the use of glass over plastics, but when you have no choice, plastics marked with a #1, 2, 4, and 5 don’t contain BPA and are generally safer for food.
    • Don’t microwave plastics or fill them with hot liquids.
    • Wash plastics on the top shelf of the dishwasher, where the water is cooler, or by hand.
    • Avoid old, scratched water bottles.
    • Use stainless water bottles without plastic linings.

What are PFCs and why should you avoid them?

PFCs, short for perfluorochemicals, belong to the family of chemicals that includes Teflon and Scotchgard. They are used to coat carpets, clothes, furniture, and food packaging, among other things. They persist in the environment and the human body and have been associated with lower birth weight for babies, cancer, infertility, elevated cholesterol and liver problems.

How do PFCs get into your food?

PFCs are used to coat food packaging, particularly those made for greasy foods. Research has shown that the chemicals can leach into what’s inside – your food.

Limit your exposure

  • Avoid non-stick pans and kitchen utensils. When overheated, they can release toxic particles and chemicals in gas form. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
  • Cut back on greasy packaged and fast foods. You might find PFC’s in pizza boxes, fast foods wrappings, microwave popcorn bags, muffin and pastry bags, butter boxes, and hash brown and French fry bags.
  • Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way - on the stovetop or with an air popper. You can also microwave popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag.

choosing organic meat and dairy products3. Limit your family’s exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics by choosing organic meat and dairy products

Under federal law, antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited in organic meat and dairy products. We recommend you buy organic dairy and meat products. For more information see EWG's Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health

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