Potentially harmful chemicals are rampant in our food system; it’s an unfortunate truth of modern day living. And they’re lurking in places you may not immediately expect.
While it may take the gears of our broken food system a long time to grind to a halt, you do have a responsibility to yourself in regards to what you eat. You can choose what to feed yourself and what to avoid, but that takes a little effort and a vested interest in your dietary health. To get you started, here are a handful of staple American foods that are often full of unwelcome chemicals.
Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 10 years knows that plastic water bottles are horrible for both humans and the planet. But, let’s refresh, shall we? Plastic water bottles are loaded with chemicals, like BPAs, that leach into our precious life fluid. These chemicals disrupt the delicate hormonal balance of the body, often by mimicking estrogen.
What’s worse is that these chemicals get stored in fat, meaning they stick around for a long time. And just because a bottle is BPA-free doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Always, always, always pack a canteen of filtered water from home in some sort of inert container like glass or stainless steel. And if you desperately need to buy water on the go, try to find water sold in glass bottles. And this goes for other liquids besides water as well, like juices and teas.
Big-brand condiments like ketchup and mustard often contain artificial colorings, along with emulsifiers and vague natural or artificial flavorings. These chemicals have little function in condiments. If you take the use of artificial colors, consider that mustard can be made a vivid yellow with turmeric (as many companies have). Ketchup is unashamedly a tomato red without any additional colorings. The food dyes that some companies add to these condiments have been linked with cancerous tumors and hyperactivity in children. Remember the purple and green ketchup fad of the 90s? Yikes! In general, there are plenty of condiments without artificial colors listed on their ingredients. Opt for those over bigger, cheaper, chemically-laden brands.
Our vast aisles of breads and cereals are all likely contaminated to some extent with that ubiquitous herbicide, glyphosate. You may know it as Monsanto’s infamous “Roundup Ready” chemical. The fact that glyphosate is used on our food is bad enough. But what is even more unfortunate is, through a technique known as crop desiccation, glyphosate and other chemicals are often applied to the crops immediately before harvest. And while maybe you can rinse some of the chemical residue off a piece of produce, you cannot rinse it out of a loaf of bread.
Consumption of glyphosate-tainted grains has been reported to potentially cause gluten intolerance and celiac disease. The World Health Organization has also categorized glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. Besides glyphosate, breads and cereals can also contain potassium bromate, propyl paraben and BHT. When you are buying breads, cereals, legumes and other grains, always opt for organic, non-GMO.
Cheese is naturally a fatty food—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Fatty foods are an important part of life. But, when fatty foods are wrapped in plastic, chemicals from the plastic have the unfortunate tendency to leach into the fat. Again, these chemicals disrupt hormones and have been linked to breast and prostate cancer. To avoid this, buy only cheeses (vegan or not) that are not highly processed and avoid those that have been wrapped in plastic. This can be difficult, as even Whole Foods wraps their better cheeses in plastic wrapping. Try to remember to bring your own container or ask for wax paper wrapping, if that’s an option. Again, even products labelled “BPA-free” often contain serious endocrine-disrupting chemicals, so it is best to avoid plastic-wrapped foods and liquids as often as possible.
When you buy canned tomatoes, the acidity from the tomatoes eats away at the can’s lining, meaning those same endocrine-disrupting chemicals from the can actually get dissolved into your tomato sauce. So always buy tomato products stored in glass jars. Also be sure to not cook tomatoes (or anything, if you can help it) in aluminum or non-stick (Teflon) pans. Aluminum is known to accumulate in the brain and has been linked to Alzheimer’s and certain cancers. Always cook in enamel, ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron.
Chemicals lurk in so many of our grocery store staples. While it is not impossible to avoid these chemicals, it does require some knowledge and vigilance. What foods you choose to put into your body is a huge foundation of good health. So put the effort in. Do your own digging, educate yourself and know your food.
This post originally appeared on Care2.com.