The Eat To Breathe Diet: 5 Simple Changes

BY ON January 6, 2012

Little girl eating open faced sandwich

BPA, pesticides, growth hormones, artificial food colorings, meat and vegetable recalls….so many problems with our food supply, and so much to keep up with! The news is endless and always changing.

I set out to write the ebook, Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents, to help moms and dads limit their kids’ exposures to the chemicals in food, and feeding and drinking gear. It’s packed with helpful tips, resources, recipes, and information to make feeding your family easier, healthier, and better for the environment.

Below are 5 simple changes in the way you can feed your family safer and healthier foods, and what you can do to limit toxic exposures from air and other pollutants. Keep in mind we can’t shop (or eat) our way out of these problems– according to Time magazine: 93% of us have BPA in our blood, no matter what we eat, this chemical is ubiquitous. But we can decrease our exposures to toxins, and work for regulatory changes to clean up the air, water and land to better protect our families.

The Eat to Breathe Diet: 5 Simple Changes

1. Eat Organic Foods as Much as Possible

Pesticide pollution from conventional farming is harmful for the air and our bodies. Application of these chemicals produces pesticide drifts, which are, “…the airborne movement of pesticides, away from the intended target,” according to Californians for Pesticide Reform.

 “Two types of poisoning can result from exposure to pesticide drift: acute and chronic. Acute poisonings cause symptoms soon after the exposure occurs. Symptoms of acute poisoning are usually obvious, such as eye, skin and respiratory irritation, asthma attacks, nausea, vomiting, headache, tremors, numbness and more. Symptoms may mimic those of flue, colds and headaches. Farm workers, their families, farmers and “fence-line” communities are on the front lines for this type of poisoning.

 Chronic poisoning is a result of pesticide exposures, often at low levels, over a long period of time. Like secondhand cigarette smoke, chronic exposures to drifting pesticides can have long-term health effects, even though people may experience few or no symptoms until long after their exposure.

What you can do: To reduce the ill health effects from the application of pesticides, buy organic produce as much as possible.

2. Avoid Microwave Popcorn (PFOA air pollution)

Back in 2007 there was a flurry of news about a chemical called diacetyl in microwave popcorn bags because they gave off potentially harmful fumes. There was one case of a man who ate microwave popcorn twice a day. He developed difficulty breathing and a chronic cough, all of which improved once he stopped eating (and breathing the fumes from) microwave popcorn.

Some factory workers in plants making microwave popcorn bags have developed a severe condition called popcorn lung, which can be fatal. Some popcorn makers, namely Weaver Popcorn Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., American Popcorn Company and General Mills Inc. have phased out the use of the chemical, which is great.

But as with so many companies and chemicals, the replacements may be just as harmful. This highlights the serious problems with our regulatory system for chemicals. Companies are allowed to use them until they are proven toxic, and thousands of consumers have then been exposed. When they change to a slightly different chemical, as in this case, and use it until it is proven unsafe, consumers are once again being exposed toxics. It’s just common sense that chemicals in our food needs to be tested for safety before allowed into our products. That’s why we need the Safe Chemicals Act.

What you can do: In the meantime, it makes sense to avoid eating microwave popcorn from bags. You can use this glass microwave popcorn maker, or make it the old fashioned way like I do, on the stove in a pot with oil.

3. Avoid Factory Farmed Meats

As I wrote last year, factory farming contributes to air pollution and global warming in significant and troubling ways. Industrial farms emit toxic hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane, while using massive amounts of fossil fuels to operate. In fact, they emit 90 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

What you can do: Again, it makes sense to buy organic (and preferably local) meats as much as possible.

4. Buy Locally Produced Foods 

To limit smog (ground level ozone) and global warming that results from automobile exhaust, eat locally sourced food whenever possible. Consider this: an average food item travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles before hitting the grocery store shelves. It was likely carried in a huge gas guzzling, ozone-depleting truck. An average, non-locally-produced meal produces up to 17 times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions of a meal of food produced locally. The food industry is responsible for about one fifth of the US consumption of petroleum. Only a small fraction of this is used at the farms – the rest is used for keeping food cold, transporting it, and packaging. By shopping at a local farmer’s market, most of those packaging and transportation costs can be saved by simply bringing cloth bags.

What you can do: Everyone will breathe easier–and you will be feeding your family healthier and tastier food too if you shop at local farmer’s markets or CSA’s.

 5. Eat Safer Fish 

Thankfully the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule will lessen toxic mercury in our environment, and ultimately, in the food we eat. We know that mercury is a neurotoxin which can:

*Damage brain development
*Cause learning disabilities
*Result in language disorders and memory problems
*Impair vision and hearing; and many other harmful effects
*Adult exposure to mercury is associated with heart disease and other cardiovascular illnesses

What you can do: Even with the new mercury rulings, we’ll still need to be vigilant about avoiding mercury to protect the health of our families. Check out this safer fish list, and read about how to find safer seafood here. Because of safety and environmental problems at the fish counter, I advocate eating only wild fish (not farmed), or no fish at all.

These are just a few ideas of how you can fight for clean air at your dining room table. Advocating for clean air isn’t all protests, phone calls, and online petitions. Small choices that we make everyday can reduce our family’s exposures to toxic chemicals and create healthier air for everyone!


 Photo credit: Katy Farber

TOPICS: Activism, Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Motherhood, Science