Hello, this is my first blog. I am a Nutritionist that works with individuals to create personalised diet and lifestyle programs to meet their health goals. I have a food background and consider myself a ‘foodie’ and love a healthy recipe to try out and recommend. My aim is to blog relevant suggestions to improve your health based upon current topics in nutrition and lifestyle. This first blog is more lifestyle tips focused.
It’s often reading something you feel strongly about that prompts you to comment and a couple of articles appeared in the press in the last few months about environmental chemicals that got me wanting to write. It seems public health groups are standing up now about chemicals and their effect on us although those that do are subject to criticism for scaremongering. I really support the cautious, safety-first, approach mentioned for pregnant women and have summarised some practical tips to reduce exposure that I feel are relevant to all, but particularly children and those with allergies and chronic diseases.
A few weeks ago The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggested that those trying to conceive, pregnant and breastfeeding women should consider the cocktail of chemicals to which we are all exposed in normal daily living (highlighting cosmetics and food packaging) for their impact on conception, foetuses and babies. These chemicals can enter our bloodstream from what we inhale, eat or drink and put onto our skin. These can then potentially be passed on via the placenta and breast milk. The RCOG state that we do not know the extent of the risk from hundreds of environmental chemicals at low levels but it may be worth assuming there is a risk and to apply safety first measures. Some of these food packaging & cosmetic chemicals, such as bisphenyl A (BPA) and phthalates, are known to interfere with the body’s hormone systems and could affect normal development.
This safety advice has met with criticism and been called unhelpful. Yet it was in February of this year that the World Health Organisation released its 2012 report about endocrine disruptors, stating endocrine disruption is more extensive than was thought 10 years ago. The body’s endocrine system regulates the release of certain hormones (chemical messengers) that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. Such chemicals have been associated with reproductive effects but also immune function, neural systems, thyroid function, early puberty and female hormone problems as well as some diseases. The report is calling for more research, and to consider the ‘mixtures’ of chemical exposure as there is thought to be an additive effect. This is where many chemicals, although each may be at levels without individual effect, could act together to cause health problems.
Here are my Top 5 suggestions to reduce environmental chemicals that I would recommend to all but certainly for those trying to conceive, pregnant or for children, those with allergies/sensitivities, female hormone problems and some chronic diseases.
1. Reduce chemicals we eat from food wrapping and storage. I recommend glass and think food lasts longer and tastes better when stored in glass. Remove the plastic wrapping around food and store in a glass jar (reuse those food glass jars that you’d normally simply recycle) in cupboards or the fridge. There are a lot more glass storage containers available now from brands like Pyrex (Pampered Chef, Lock n Lock) which although have a variety of plastic lids will reduce chemical exposure and keep food fresher. If you have to reheat leftovers with a microwave (note many glass containers will heat well in an oven minus the lid – check the individual product first) glass is a better choice than plastic as glass is inert or unreactive when heated. Avoid tin cans (the lining can contain BPA) for sweetcorn or pulses, frozen (albeit plastic wrapped) would be a better option. Substitute greaseproof or baking paper for clingfilm to wrap food.
2. Reduce chemicals we drink. There are now several BPA-free versions available for water bottles for school, gym and outings that can still be dishwasher cleaned, look for the Aladdin brand online or Wiggle online has a sports cap bottle version. If you buy water in plastic bottles choose coloured bottles if possible and don’t leave in direct sunlight (e.g. in a car) as the chemicals in the plastic can leech into the water.
3. Reduce chemicals we eat and drink. Try to eat organic food, to reduce cost prioritise by how frequently and how much you consume. Try to buy organic fruit and vegetables and grains using information from pan-uk.org which highlights those UK foods found with the highest levels of pesticides. Some of the products I try and buy organic are carrots, celery, peppers, tomatoes, apples, grapes, rice and wherever the price premium is low. Or, if you can, grow some of your own vegetables even if it’s herbs or tomatoes or beans in a patio container.
4. Reduce skin exposure to chemicals. Try out chemical-free cosmetics including mineral make-up from brands like Green People, Neal’s Yard Remedies, particularly those you use daily and rub into your skin. Perhaps prioritise parabens and phthalates-free products in pregnancy and for your children and teenagers due to their likely hormonal effect. Select natural cleaning products where possible, or Google lemon, vinegar or bicarbonate of soda for suggestions to make cheap alternative cleaners.
5. Reduce home airborne chemicals. Don’t use home plug-in chemical air freshners. Instead open the windows, burn an essential oil, buy or pick some fresh flowers (freesias are relatively cheap and really fragrant), or try natural food products you can buy from supermarkets like vanilla pods (halve a pod and scrape the seeds within to release the aroma from the pod). Having house plants may help cut toxins in the home. Do consider other home chemical exposure like painting and redecorating your house which is best in the summer when you can thoroughly air the house.
Link to the RCOG press release
Link to WHO State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012
For some information on chemicals in cosmetics to avoid