The path towards greener eating may seem more like a journey into unchartered territory, when you start learning about the myriad of chemicals, additives and questionable nutritional value of many of the foods on store shelves. As EWG’s executive director and a busy mother of two, I’m on a mission to empower parents and consumers to navigate this terrain and clear an easy path towards your families’ wellness.
EWG has created quick and easy tools to help you find your way:
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
First off, whole foods are always the best option. Buying fresh produce — lots of it — is the biggest favor you can do your family and yourself. However, conventionally grown produce can be treated with toxic pesticides with known human health risks. Tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that pesticide persists even after produce has been washed and peeled. EWG recommends buying USDA certified organic produce when you can. It’s the only way to know these fruits and vegetables were grown without harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to buy organic, either you can’t find it or it’s too expensive, EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce has a Dirty Dozen of conventional produce with the highest number of pesticide residues and a Clean Fifteen list with the lowest.
It’s simply not practical to serve whole fruits and veggies all the time. I admit to heating a frozen pizza or two and throwing a granola bar into my kids’ lunches. That’s why EWG has worked hard to make a new consumer tool, EWG’s Food Scores, an online database and mobile app of more than 80,000 foods found in grocery stores across the country. Each item is rated on nutrition, ingredient concern and degree of processing and then given an overall score between 1 and 10. The healthiest foods rate number one, think less is more. Top rated products have fewer ingredients, fewer additives and less sugar.
The app is designed to help you make smarter choices in the store. You can browse online to find the best choices by food category or scan barcodes in the store, so you know what’s really in your food.
Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives
During our research for Food Scores, we looked at some of the questionable additives used in processed foods. You can learn about them in EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives and learn how to avoid buying foods with them. The list includes nitrites and nitrates, which are linked to cancer, and propyl paraben, a preservative that may act as synthetic estrogen.
Healthy Home Tips
Greening your kitchen goes beyond food. You also need to consider the materials in your pots, storage containers and cleaning products.
Some non-stick pans can release toxic chemical fumes when heated to high temperatures, causing flu-like symptoms in people and even killing pet birds. Use a cast iron skillet instead.
Don’t reuse plastic containers meant for a single use. These plastics degrade overtime and can leech chemicals into your food or water.
Don’t buy anti-bacterial cleaning products. They often contain triclosan, which can disrupt the hormone system. Opt for plain soap and water instead, it’s just as effective at killing germs without potentially harmful chemicals.
The old adage, you are what you eat, is true. The toxic chemicals used to grow our food and added to processed foods end up in our bodies, and no one knows what happens then.
What we do know is that less is more, simple is better, and when you’re pregnant take care of you! Don’t aim for perfection. Each small step you take matters and in the end, you can make a big difference in your path to wellness.
Heather White is Executive Director of EWG, a national environmental health research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. EWG’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.