My 34-year-old client Thomas arrived in my office complaining of severe abdominal pain, fatigue, frequent colds, and unexplained weight gain.
Initially, I felt perplexed. Thomas ate a mostly organic diet, managed stress levels, and until recently, when extreme lethargy sabotaged his energy levels, lifted weights four times a week.
Cooking clean is just as important as eating clean.
We eventually discovered his gut problems stemmed from an unsuspecting, often-overlooked source: He cooked his "healthy" dishes in nonstick cookware.
From years of use, an eroded coating meant potentially toxic chemicals blended into his healthy food and were ingested by him, creating not only gut issues, but also potentially becoming carcinogenic. Thomas' kitchen was making him toxic, and he was gaining weight as a result.
As a medical doctor specializing in gut, weight, and hormone issues, not every situation becomes acute like Thomas' did. "Kitchen toxicity" is most often chronic and indolent from long-term exposures to plastic food storage containers, nonstick cookware, cooking utensils, and other kitchen essentials containing potentially threatening compounds that silently, slowly destroy your healthy efforts.
Here's how to reduce your toxic load (and why).
Although Thomas preferred its convenience, studies show perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) from nonstick cookware and other sources accumulate in human tissue. As these and other compounds build up, they store in your body's fat cells, leading to that stubborn hard-to-lose tire in the middle and symptoms like the ones Thomas had that can make you feel sick, tired, and result in weight gain.
Chemicals like these are known as endocrine disruptors because they interfere with the body's hormones.
Nowadays, babies can be born toxic, and it usually just gets worse from there. Looking at 10 newborns, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found 287 industrial chemicals in their umbilical cord blood including eight perfluorochemicals in fast-food packaging, clothes, and textiles.
We live in a toxic world. You can't avoid exposure, but you can reduce your toxic load. One of the most effective ways start is in your kitchen. Beyond ditching chemically loaded processed foods and sugar, how you cook and store food plays a big role in how much these toxins accumulate.
Focusing on these five areas will help you reduce your toxin exposure.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) enter your body when you eat foods prepared on these surfaces. We call them "persistent" because your body has no easy way to eliminate them, so they remain trapped in body fat, making you gain weight, feel tired, and increasing your disease risk. Organic pollutants contribute to America's ever-increasing type 2 diabetes and obesity rates. Look for cookware labeled "PFOA- free" and "PTFE-free." Ideal solutions include ceramic-coated, porcelain-enameled, cast-iron, and stainless-steel cookware. Your utensils also often contain nonstick coatings, so look for those made from bamboo (a renewable, nontoxic resource) or stainless steel.
2. Food storage
Convenience, environmental consciousness, and anti-waste are three reasons to opt for food storage containers. Unfortunately, plastic food storage containers contain bisphenols (like BPA) and endocrine disruptors, so opt for glass or Pyrex containers. Avoid plastic wraps that use polyvinylidene chloride. Instead, forgo plastic wrap for old-fashioned wax or parchment paper.
Avoid triclosan (an antibacterial agent) and choose a regular natural plant-based detergent. Unless you plan to sterilize your apartment like a hospital, you don't need an antibacterial agent.
Heating food in microwaves may reduce its nutrient value. Worse, microwave ovens often leak electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that contribute to fatigue and depression. Never microwave food in plastic containers since bisphenol-A (BPA, an endocrine hormone disruptor) in plastic can leach into food. Avoid microwave popcorn like the plague because its fire-retardant materials in the bag linings are especially toxic. If ditching your microwave isn't an option, never stand in front of it while using it. Consider a toaster oven or stove instead, which take about the same amount of time to reheat food.
Unfortunately, tap water is far from clean, toxin-free, or gut-friendly. Pharmaceutical residues—antibiotics, sex hormones, and other toxins you definitely don't want—have been found in the water supplies of 24 American metropolitan areas, affecting over 41 million Americans' drinking water. Drug metabolites aside, drinking water often contains heavy metals and is heavily chlorinated (potentially interfering with your thyroid gland) to keep it free of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. One recent study found late-term miscarriages and spontaneous abortions, linked to drinking water, occurred at an unusually high rate among women in Washington, D.C. During the same time period, lead pipes meant lead levels were dangerously high in Washington's drinking water. Your best options to filter your water include carbon filters that remove chlorine and fluoride or reverse-osmosis systems that remove drug metabolites, heavy metal ions, and chlorine from tap water.
Focusing on these five areas will help you reduce your toxin exposure. If you want to learn more, get this free Quick Start Guide to a healthier you.