It can be difficult to avoid chemicals in your food. Although it may not be realistic to eliminate all chemicals from your diet (after all, there are even chemicals in our drinking water), chemical exposure can be minimized.
Dietary chemicals fall into three broad categories. First, we have contaminants – these are substances that end up in our food by accident. The mercury found in some types of fish would be one example. Second, there are residues – substances that are in our food due to deliberate action, like spraying pesticides on vegetables. Finally, there are ingredients, which are chemicals that are added to our food to preserve them, or to add to their appearance.
Pesticides can be avoided by eating organic food. Again, you may not entirely eliminate pesticides, but the level of exposure will be considerably reduced. If going wholly organic isn’t practical, due to cost or availability, make sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consuming them. If you plan on peeling your produce, you don’t need to go organic. Keep in mind that eliminating fruits and vegetables from your diet really isn’t a good idea – the health benefits from eating fresh produce will generally outweigh the minimal chemical exposure you’ll get from washed produce.
Contaminants are harder to avoid, since they make their way onto your table because of environmental conditions. The mercury in fish, for example, is caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants. Another source of contaminants is food processing and packing plants. If you avoid eating processed foods, you can eliminate many contaminants from your diet. Also, make sure that you keep foods in glass storage containers, and avoid using plastic containers for microwaving. This reduces your exposure to BPA, which is believed to be a factor in some types of cancer.
Foods that are heavily processed also contain artificial flavours, preservatives and dyes. These substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people, and some research suggests that they may be responsible for more serious health problems.
So, what can you eat on a chemical free diet?
Basically, avoid processed foods. Read the label, and if you don’t understand what you’re reading, the food has likely been heavily processed. Select fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, and limit dairy and animal products. Note, however, that cutting back on dairy products is not recommended for growing children and nursing mothers.