One of the key concepts in my work is “toxic load,” in other words, the sum total of all the harmful things that your body is exposed to. When we do everything in our power to reduce that toxic load, for instance, reducing our exposure to chemicals in the home, we reduce chronic illnesses and lead healthier, happier and longer lives.
But it turns out that one of the biggest contributors to our toxic load comes from outside the house, namely the millions of tons of pesticides — insecticides that kill bugs and herbicides that kill weeds — which, too often are indiscriminately sprayed on crops and plants every year. These chemicals can be seriously toxic. They can cause cancer, throw off the immune system, wreak neurological havoc, and, by mimicking or blocking our body’s natural hormones, disrupt the working of our endocrine and reproductive systems. And what’s happening inside our bodies is what’s happening on a larger scale to the environment, to the soil, waterways, fish, birds, beneficial insects, and so on. We humans, and the environment, are being poisoned by our society’s industrial chemical-happy approach to maximizing agricultural yields at all costs.
The best way to remove as many pesticides as possible is to prevent the toxins from getting in there in the first place. Here’s a run-down of my favorite, easy-to-incorporate ‘clean-living’ and eating habits to embrace right now, to help limit your exposure every day:
Bypass conventional and buy organic.
Buying produce, fresh or frozen, with the USDA certified seal will radically slash the amount of nasty chemicals you would have ingested by consuming produce that was grown conventionally. If that weren’t enough, the organics will likely pack more healthful nutrients, says a 2016 British Journal of Nutrition study – and will enable you to side-step dangerous pesticides like Monsanto’s notorious killer Roundup.
Consider farmer’s market produce too.
OK, while there’s no such actual certification as ‘semi-organic,’ a fair amount of farmer’s market produce would fall under that hypothetical umbrella. That’s because produce you buy at the farmers’ market or community supported agriculture group (CSA) may not carry the official USDA organic label – it’s a certified designation that can be tough for small producers to afford. But the small-guy products are likely as good as the certified organic stuff, or very close to it. Typically, small producers use more environmentally and human friendly methods to control insect pests and weeds – and we’re all for that!
Choose your (organic) battles.
Buying only organic may simply not be practicable all the time, because of the expense or the availability. The recourse? Refer to the ‘Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen’ Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The guide will tell you which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables test high for pesticide residues (avoid!) and which test low, making them an acceptable organic alternative.
DIY veggies, fruits and herbs.
Growing your own produce and herbs, be it in a backyard vegetable garden or city apartment windowsill, is the ideal. You’re taking control of your own food supply, cheaply and without pesticides. Sure, you may not be able to grow everything you want to eat. But if, say, you’ve got a lot of cucumbers, swap out the surplus for zucchinis with a neighbor or ferment the overage and enjoy even after summer is over. Be sure to start the growing process with good, clean compost and soil, then add organic seeds for the most nutritious results.
Detox your lawn.
Turns out the most popular weed-killer, Roundup, may be pretty good at killing people too, so avoiding this crap – which gets ‘baked in’ during the growing process – by eating organic and farmer’s market produce is a no-brainer. As you may know, I’ve been warning people for years about the health hazards associated with its chief ingredient, glyphosate, and now media coverage of multi-million-dollar lawsuits has alerted the general public to the glyphosate-cancer connection. The take-home message here is pretty simple. Don’t use it on your lawn. Instead, use an organic lawn care service or come up with your own no-chemical system, something that doesn’t leach into the groundwater or level your local bee population. Even better, talk to your neighbors and get them to wean themselves off Roundup as well.
Don’t bomb your bugs.
Go easy on insect repellant, both the body and backyard spray kinds. Use no more than strictly necessary. If bugs indoors are a problem, keep in mind that especially toxic “bug bombs” and conventional extermination treatments feature industrial-strength chemicals that linger long after the bugs are gone, settling on surfaces throughout your home, not just in the immediate area where the bug bombing took place. You wind up breathing in the harmful chemical residue for weeks after – hardly a healthy situation. To address the inside creepy-crawlies, try an eco-friendly enzyme spray or a natural bug-killer with natural ingredients that are lethal for bugs, not people or pets.
Welcome! Now, take your shoes off, please.
Here’s an easy-to-adopt practice that’s becoming increasingly popular – place your shoes and boots in the hallway or the closet and ask your guests to do the same. When you walk indoors in outdoor footwear, you’re tracking in an array of unappealing substances into your home, including, dirt, bacteria, animal feces, lead dust and yes, you guessed it– pesticides. For indoors, socks, slippers or au natural bare feet are the way to go.
Lose the (industrially grown) flowers.
Have you ever wondered how your local market can sell flowers year-round and so cheaply? They’re probably grown on an industrial scale, soaked in pesticides that damage the environment and the workers who handle them – making their cost considerable in non-monetary ways. But it’s not just the flowers that are rich in pesticides: a 2014 report by the Friends of the Earth and the Pesticides Research Institute, says that many of the trees, plants, and shrubbery on offer at neighborhood or “big box” lawn centers have taken a similar chemical bath, so I’d recommend not surrounding your house with that stuff. A better bet is to search out healthier alternatives. For starters, check out veriflora, an agricultural certification labeling program that is a leader in floriculture and horticulture sustainability.
High toxic exposures can overwhelm the body’s ability to detoxify itself, which, over time, can trigger a litany of diseases. And to cut your toxic load relatively quickly, I highly recommend starting with the above tips.