When healthy and unaltered by any detrimental chemicals, foreign hormones, heavy metals and poisons, certain viruses and other harmful organisms, our immune system is designed to provide us sufficient protection and healing power to prevent and overcome disease. Our bodies have incredible internal detoxification systems.
Why then are we getting sicker? Why do nearly half of Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease? Why are illnesses such as cancer, bone diseases, heart diseases, neurological damage, asthma, and diabetes affecting us more than ever before? Certainly there are behavioral health risks and poor dietary choices that come into play here. However, we are also bombarded with pollutants. Over time, the accumulation becomes too much for our bodies to handle without intervention to support the excessive burden to our immune systems.
Purposeful detoxing and cleansing is important regardless how healthy our diet is and not any one detox or cleanse is the solution to every need in the body. Some detox programs are targeted for cleansing specific organs, some are to rid our body of heavy metals, some are to support healthy bowel activity and removal of parasites, some are to help us overcome food cravings and addictions, and some are to support a healthy mindset. You get the picture. The fact is that intentional detox activity is important. You can also help yourself avoid significant overload of toxins by using preventative measures.
Toxins are inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through our skin. Most of the 80,000 chemicals used in the United States (US) today, “have not been adequately tested for their effects on human health.”(NRDC) We are exposed to many of these chemicals in our homes (e.g., furniture, cabinets, flooring, cleaners, air fresheners, toys, etc.), in items we put on our skin (e.g., cosmetics, skincare, etc.), and even foods we consume. Each year, 2,000 new chemicals are introduced in our everyday items and most without safety testing. The fact is, the burden relies on us as consumers to be aware of the toxins we are exposed to and make healthier and safer choices.
Is it possible to avoid exposure to all toxins? No, but it is possible to minimize them. It is important to be aware of chemicals, heavy metals, and pollutants that are risks to our good health.
Even in the absence of a health condition, common symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, depression, and many other undesirable symptoms are related to toxins that have built up in our body.
In this 4-article series, I am going to talk about 4 changes you can make to reduce your toxin exposure and this article will focus on the first one. The others will be explained in subsequent articles over the next few weeks.
- Food: Consume organic foods
- Internal Factors: Rid yourself of negative thought patterns and emotions
- Personal Care: Use personal care products without harmful ingredients
- Home Environment: Use non-toxic household products and eco friendly safe home items
Consuming organic foods is a healthier choice and reduces the amount of toxins your body must contend with. For a product to be USDA organic certified, it must include the USDA Organic seal. In order to obtain a USDA organic certification, farmers and handlers must be inspected every year. There are products that contain organic ingredients that may not have the USDA Organic seal. For more details on the labeling of organic products, click here.
Let’s look at produce and animal protein separately and what organic means for each of them.
Food – Produce
Over 350 different pesticides are used on the foods we eat. According to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.” Organic foods have considerably less toxic chemicals and this means we consume a reduced amount of toxins.
It may not always be possible to purchase organic fruits and vegetables due to availability or the financial impact. When choosing whether to purchase organic or not, it is wise to take heed of the 2017 Dirty Dozen +1 List. This list is based on testing by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It would be best to buy organic for any of top items that have been tested to have the highest amounts of pesticide residues. The Clean 15 List is based on produce that has been tested least likely to contain pesticide residues. Click here for the entire list.
*Per EWG, “A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.” Speaking of genetically modified (GMO), it is important to understand that all organic foods are non-GMO but not all non-GMO foods are organic.
TIP for being additionally selective: If you eat out quite a bit and unless those places serve organic produce (most do not), try to purchase organic for the food you prepare at home.
Food – Animal Protein
For ease of understanding, when I refer to animal protein, I am referring to:
- Meats and Dairy = beef, bison, lamb, goat and the dairy from them
- Poultry and Eggs = chicken, duck, turkey and their eggs
- Fish & Seafood
As far as what organic means when it applies to animal protein, according to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), “Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.” The animal feed must also be organic if they are fed any feed at all versus them feeding off the land.
When it comes to animal protein, we should not stop at the USDA Organic seal. We also need to pay attention to how the animals are raised and what they eat. This is key to the health of the animal and that then equates to the impact it can have on our health.
Here are additional elements that are important to understand when it comes to consuming meats. There are more terms that are utilized when it comes to animal protein but to avoid too much complication, we will stick with these since this is what we want to look for on packages:
Grass-fed: Applies to meats and dairy from them. This means the animals eat grass or forage, which is their natural diet. It may come from an organic pasture or is provided to them and they consume it from the time they are weaned until harvest. Conventionally raised animals are generally fed corn and soy (not a natural diet for them and mostly genetically modified) so that they fatten faster which is very unhealthy for them and for those who eat them.
Evidence from 3 decades of research indicates that grass-fed beef is better nutritionally. It has healthier fat content and a greater amount of antioxidants and vitamins. Other studies show that grass-fed beef is less likely to harbor multidrug-resistant bacteria (that can cause food poisoning) than conventionally raised beef.
Pasture-raised: Applies to poultry and their eggs. Pasture-raised means the birds have roaming access on pasture, rangelands or wooded areas, and have shelter from the weather and predators. They are able to feed on their natural diet of plants, seeds, and insects and are handled much more humanely. Like grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry also has a better nutritional profile. Conventionally raised poultry are fed a grain-based diet (most of the time genetically modified), kept in close quarters where they are not able to exercise, can get very stressed, and are crowded, which results in infections and bacteria being spread amongst them.
Wild-caught: Applies to fish and seafood. Wild-caught fish come from seas, rivers, and other natural bodies of water (basically their natural habitat) and are able to feed on their natural diet. Farm-raised fish are raised in pens or enclosures and can be fed genetically modified grains. Their living conditions are many times overcrowded and polluted with pesticides and antibiotics, which breeds stressed, unhealthy fish.
When we eat non-organic, non-grass-fed meats (e.g., beef, bison, lamb, goat) and dairy, non-pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and farmed-raised fish, we consume undesirable elements and not as healthy animal protein, which contributes adversely to our health.
Your best bet is to buy from a local farmer while being aware of how they raise their animals. Otherwise, if it is not labeled grass-fed organic meat and dairy, pasture-raised organic poultry and eggs, or wild-caught fish, it is all risky. Because it can be much more costly to buy the better form, if you must be selective, choose organic and grass-fed/pasture-raised/wild-caught for your meals at home. This will especially help since most, if not all these foods consumed when eating out more than likely do not meet the healthier criteria.
Whether from produce or animal protein, unhealthy elements and toxins that we consume accumulate in our body. Although we may not have an adverse symptom in the short term, we are undoubtedly accumulating a wealth of unhealthy substances that can contribute to health problems.
This is not an all or nothing position. Prioritize and be selective as necessary as even small changes are an investment in your good health.
- Beyond Pesticides website. http://www.beyondpesticides.org/resources/pesticide-induced-diseases-database/body-burden.
- Chronic disease overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm.
- Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal. 2010. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-9-10.
- Eat Wild website. http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm.
- Effects of environmental toxins. Kalish Wellness website. http://kalishwellness.com/latest-news/.
- It could take centuries for EPA to test all the unregulated chemicals under a new landmark bill. PBS.org website. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/it-could-take-centuries-for-epa-to-test-all-the-unregulated-chemicals-under-a-new-landmark-bill/.
- National Toxicology Program website. https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/about/index.html.
- NRDC website. https://www.nrdc.org/issues/toxic-chemicals.
- Organic.org website. http://www.organic.org/home/faq.
- Topline Foods website. http://www.toplinefoods.com/grass-fed-beef-meat-vs-organic-beef-meat/.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling.
- You may want to think twice before buying expensive grass-fed beef. Business Insider Science website. http://www.businessinsider.com/grass-fed-claims-beef-bogus-usda-packaging-2016-2.