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Avoid Chemical Cuisine: Advice From the Washington Toxics Coalition

Parents in a hurry might be tempted to rely on the convenience of processed food: pre-sliced and pre-packaged, ready to quickly toss into little hands for eating on the go. We've all heard the saying "you are what you eat," and current research shows it's more important than ever to choose foods wisely for your family. Scientists believe the single largest source of exposure to the hormone disruptors phthalates and bisphenol A is diet, likely by contamination through industrial food processing and packaging.

Phthalates are found in PVC (vinyl) food packaging such as commercial cling wrap on meats and cheeses, plastic containers that have the resin code #3, and in components of food processing machinery like flexible PVC tubing. Sources of BPA include linings of canned food and drink, and polycarbonate plastic (#7 resin code). Phthalates and BPA are only two of the hormone disrupting chemicals found in our food supply. Others include certain pesticides, growth hormone given to food animals, and industrial chemicals which build up in the food chain such as the brominated flame retardants, PBDEs.

Targeting diet may be an effective way to reduce exposure to all of these chemicals of concern, highlighting the value of healthy food choices for kids. Since you won't find hormone disruptors listed on any labels, follow these tips for reducing exposure in your food:

  • Limit processed food. Instead, choose whole foods as the basis of your diet: lots of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (beans), nuts and seeds. Wondering how to get your kids excited to reach for a plain jane apple over the fruit roll up with a shiny plastic wrapper? Garden with your kids. Teach kids what whole food really means by growing food together. A child is much more likely to try rainbow chard or parsley when it's from the backyard. Cook with kids. They will learn first-hand how fresh ingredients become part of a meal, and by cooking at home you have the most control over what goes into your food. Shop a farmers market. It's important for kids to see that food isn't just plucked from the aisles of a grocery store. It's also an opportunity for them to interact with farmers, to taste new varieties of local foods and be an active part of choosing what's part of the family meal. Spend time at a farm. Getting out to local farms is an important part of food choices. When you are actively involved in the harvesting of your own food, it makes a lasting impression.

  • Limit canned food and beverages, or buy BPA-free cans. Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables over canned. Eden Foods is one company that offers BPA-free cans.

  • Choose low-fat meat and dairy. To reduce exposure to industrial chemicals which build up in fatty tissue, choose lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy, and buy organic if possible. Cut off visible fats on meats and fish before cooking, and use lower-fat cooking methods like broiling, grilling, and roasting. Consider buying grass-fed beef, which is lower in saturated fats and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Choose safer fish. Use your state's fish consumption advisories so you gain the benefits of eating healthy fish while reducing exposure to industrial pollutants that accumulate in the food chain, such as hormone disrupting PCBs. In general, wild-caught and smaller fish that are lower on the food chain are good choices, like sardines, tilapia, and oysters. In the Northwest, wild salmon and Pacific cod are good options.

  • Eat certified organic when possible. USDA certified organic meat and dairy comes from animals never given hormones or antibiotics, and fed organic grains. The USDA organic seal verifies crops were grown without irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides (many of which are hormone disruptors), and genetically modified organisms. Use the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce to learn which crops have the highest pesticide residues.

Additional resources for finding and cooking with whole foods:

PCC Natural Markets features kid-friendly recipes, products and other resources for parents.

Puget Sound Fresh, http://pugetsoundfresh.org, a program of Cascade Harvest Coalition is a comprehensive resource offering a searchable database of Puget Sound farms and farmers markets, as well as recipes.

Do your kids need healthy food inspiration from their peers? Check out Kids Who Love to Cook: www.kidswholovetocook.com.

Seattle-based chef and author Cynthia Lair offers creative cooking advice for the whole family on her website Cookus Interruptus: how to cook fresh local organic whole foods despite life's interruptions: www.cookusinterruptus.com/index.php.

For more tips, check out our Growing Up Green archives.

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