The Paleo lifestyle revolves around health and longevity and those following it strive to make better choices in their kitchens every day. This can involve choosing ethically and sustainably raised protein sources, eating seasonally and locally, eliminating refined and processed foods and increasing healthy fat consumption. There is often less thought given to the vessels and means within which food is cooked and stored. Although you may not put as much thought into the items you use to prepare your meals, store our leftovers and clean up, those pots, pans, storage containers and disinfectants could be undermining your best efforts by potentially increasing the amount of toxins you consume, causing adverse effects on your health and the environment.
I wanted to go over a few of the most common hazardous chemicals that can creep into your body via cookware, dinnerware, and food packaging, storage containers and cleaners and provide you with some simple steps you can take to avoid them and keep a healthy kitchen.
Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical found in many kitchen products including cutting boards, countertops, dish towels, plastic food storage containers, sponges and liquid hand soap.
Triclosan accumulates in your body and is linked to skin and eye irritation, liver toxicity and hormone disruption. It can also accumulate in waterways, killing beneficial bacteria that contribute to healthy ecosystems. The American Medical Association advises against using triclosan in the home as it may contribute to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Stay away from antibacterial products, which may be labeled with terms such including ‘antibacterial’, fights germs’, ‘protects against mold’, ‘odor fighting’, or ‘keeps food fresher, longer’. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with plain soap and water. Skip antibacterial cutting boards, which are often made with petroleum-based plastics and are required by the EPA to carry a warning statement such as, ‘This product does not protect users or others against food-borne bacteria.’ Sustainably harvested bamboo or FSC-certified wood cutting boards are good alternatives. Dedicate one cutting board for chopping produce and another one for cutting meat. Scrub all surfaces that contact food (such as cutting boards, utensils and countertops) with hot, soapy water. Use vinegar to disinfect.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen found in thousands of products including reusable polycarbonate (#7 plastic) food and beverage containers, the lining of canned goods, PVC (#3 plastic); and on receipts and money.
BPA can leach into food and beverages. Exposure to trace amounts of BPA have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and have been linked to a wide range of disorders including breast cancer, reproductive system damage, heart disease and obesity. BPA poses the highest risk to developing fetuses and babies.
BPA is found in the lining of nearly all canned foods and beverages. A few companies, offer food in BPA-free cans, and several other companies are working to eliminate BPA from linings. While it may be difficult to totally eliminate canned foods and beverages, at least try to avoid those for which you have fresh or frozen alternatives, as well those known to contain high levels of BPA.
Also avoid polycarbonate plastics. Polycarbonate plastics are hard and clear. This is the plastic most often used to make baby bottles and children’s sippy cups. Look for the number 7 on the bottom of the container or the letters ‘PC.’ They break down easily and can leach BPA, especially when they are heated, washed with strong detergent, or come in contact with fatty, salty or acidic foods. Store and heat food in glass containers instead. Stainless steel is another good storage option. Buy BPA-free stainless steel water bottles, and glass or stainless steel baby bottles and sippy cups, and wash your hands after handling receipts or money.
It is further recommended to avoid containers made with the BPS alternative, BPS as research has proven this chemical to be just as harmful as BPA. There are numerous types of bisphenols available and the safety and efficacy of any of these chemicals has yet to be verified.
A Plastic Safety Primer.
Take a look around your kitchen and you will easily spot dozens of items made of plastic including storage containers, plastic wrap, garbage bags and can and box liners. Along with being made from petroleum and hazardous chemicals that can compromise your health, plastic is energy-intensive to manufacture and consumes non-renewable resources. While it can be difficult to eliminate plastic altogether, there are ways to use less of it, more wisely:
- Use stainless steel travel mugs and water bottles. Bring your own grocery and produce bags to the store, and buy in bulk.
- Buy and store food in glass containers.
- If you do use plastic containers, the safest are labeled with the number 5 or the letters ‘PP’. Numbers 1, 2 and 4 are generally safe but have some issues with toxicity and a limited shelf life.
- Avoid plastics labeled 3, 6 and 7.
- Forgo melamine dinnerware, which is made with formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Melamine is hard plastic, often decorated with bright colors, patterns and pictures that are targeted toward children.
- As a general rule, if you choose to use a microwave, never microwave foods in or on plastic containers. A ‘microwavable’ label only means it will not melt or warp, not that chemicals will not leach into your food.
- Do not put plastic containers in the dishwasher. It is preferable to hand wash them gently with mild soap.
- Immediately transfer restaurant leftovers into glass or stainless steel containers when you get home. Better yet, bring your own reusable to-go container to the restaurant.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a polymer found in Teflon coating and other non-stick cookware. It belongs to a toxic class of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs), which are widely used to repel grease, water and stains on many products including food packaging, clothing and carpet.
At high temperatures, Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can break down and release potentially hazardous fumes and particles into the air, which can trigger flulike symptoms in humans. PFCs have been linked with low-birth-weight babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, early menopause and reduced immune function. Non-stick coatings can also contain residues of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen that is extremely persistent in the body and environment.
Eight companies, including the makers of Teflon non-stick cookware, have agreed to phase PFOA out of their products, but PTFE remains a concern. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a safe alternative. With proper maintenance your cast iron will develop a wonderful non-stick surface and become one of your best cooking tools.
If you choose to continue to use non-stick cookware:
- Cook on the lowest heat possible.
- Never leave an empty pan on a hot burner.
- Use wood or bamboo utensils to avoid scratching the surface.
- Hand wash pots and pans.
- Avoid abrasive cleaning products.
Eliminate or cut back restaurant prepared that comes in PFC-treated wrappers and immediately remove food from wrappers and transfer it to plates or glass storage containers.
Lead is a highly toxic metal. Although the most common source of exposure is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978, lead can also be found in the kitchen. Lead is used in the glazing process of some ceramic dinnerware and pottery. It can leach into drinking water through plumbing materials.
Lead accumulates and stays in the body for a prolonged period. Even small amounts of lead can be harmful, especially for fetuses and young children. Lead poisoning in children has been linked to learning disabilities, developmental delays and lower IQ scores. In adults, symptoms include high blood pressure, headaches, memory loss, muscular weakness and abdominal pain.
The FDA regulates the sale of dinnerware that leaches lead. If you are aiming to eliminate lead, be especially cautious with the types of ceramics and pottery most likely to contain it, which include items that are handmade, antique, excessively worn or damaged, orange, red or yellow, or made in other countries. To confirm that your dishes are safe, use a lead-testing kit (available at hardware stores or online). Until you are certain, do not use questionable dishes to heat or store food or to serve highly acidic foods and drinks such as tomato based sauces, salad dressing, citrus juice and coffee.
Lead-testing kits are also available for tap water. If your water contains levels higher than 15 parts per billion, you should take action to minimize your exposure (for more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The EPA recommends the following actions to minimize lead exposure
- Use cold water to prepare food and drinks.
- Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation.
- Clean debris out of outlet screens and faucet aerators on a regular basis.
2-Butoxyethanol is widely used as a solvent in protective surface coatings such as spray lacquers, quick-dry lacquers, enamels, varnishes, and latex paints. It is also used as an ingredient in in metal cleaners, fabric dyes and inks, industrial and window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners (as a degreaser), and dry-cleaning compounds as well as in liquid soaps and cosmetics.
2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. In addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. If you clean your home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.
2-butoxyethanol may also be listed as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylene glycol butyl ether, Butyl Cellosolve, ethylene glycol n-butyl ether, butyl Oxitol, Dowanol EB, glycol butyl ether, Polysolv, and Ektasolve EB. Abbreviations for 2-butoxyethanol include EGBE, BE and BEA.
- Read product labels and avoid products listing the ingredients noted above. In cleaning products, where manufacturers are not required to list all their ingredients on product labels, choose non-toxic chemical free alternatives
- Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar.
- For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers.
- You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils.
It is always reassuring to know that all Pete’s Paleo meals and products are produced, packaged and shipped with your ultimate wellness in mind. Beyond the best sourced, natural ingredients, all items are packaged using safe, non-toxic processes and packaging materials free from BPA’s, PTFE’s, EGBE’s. lead and triclosan. Getting your weekly delivery is a good choice in many more ways than just delicious, wholesome, Paleo food.
Making sure your food preparation and cooking environment is not sabotaging your efforts to choose and eat the most optimal foods for your body can ensure you absorb and assimilate all you need, providing all the fuel you need to live your Paleo lifestyle to its fullest.