Eco-Friendly Products For a Healthier and Sustainable Kitchen
As a health coach, personal trainer, or nutrition expert, you know that there can be many factors beyond the basics that lead to your client missing their goals. Your client’s environment is critical for optimal health, inflammation reduction, and even clear thinking and better memory. It’s vital you consider and optimize each aspect of your client’s lifestyle and environment.
The Dangers of Common Cleaning Products
Now that you’ve cleaned up the pesticides and toxic chemicals in your food it’s time to clean them up in your kitchen. Unfortunately, antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaners, disinfectants, and soaps contain pesticides. When you clean your kitchen with these products, you are essentially spreading a layer of pesticides in and around surfaces, floors, and countertops, thereby exposing food, yourself, your children, your pets, and anyone else who visits to these chemicals. Also, most conventional cleaners contain petroleum ingredients, and volatile chemicals like perchloroethylene and toluene which are toxic, and some are considered neurotoxins and human carcinogens.
Fact: More than 275 different active ingredients in antibacterial products are classified as pesticides by the EPA.
For a manufacturer to put the “antibacterial” label on a cleaner, the active ingredient must be registered with the EPA as a pesticide. So think about that for a moment. When you clean with these “antibacterial” cleaners, you are spreading a layer of pesticides in and around your home for you, your children, and your pets to breathe and absorb. That is simply not healthy.
When I discovered this, I immediately started “cleaning up” my household cleaners and started choosing non-toxic cleaners that are healthier for me and my family.
When choosing new cleaning products look for brands and options that are non-toxic, 100% biodegradable, don’t contain chlorine, antimicrobials, phosphates, dyes, or artificial fragrance, and are safe for septic systems.
Remember this, “clean” doesn’t have a smell, not even a fragrance smell (unless you are using real essential oils). Most fragrances contain synthetic toxic chemicals including a group of chemicals known as phthalates that are toxic to humans and the environment. If you are a fragrance freak choose products that use only real essential oils for fragrance. Or add your own essential oils to your fragrance-free, non-toxic cleaners.
Choosing Healthy Cookware
Not all cookware is created equal: there are the capabilities of the cooking tools to consider, as well as how they are made – and potential health risks. The biggest offender, non-stick Teflon pans. I don’t even own one anymore…for me, the risks far outweigh the benefits. In the chart below I go into which cookware I like. But here are a few of my favorites.
I like to cook with stainless steel pans that have an aluminum or copper core – they offer great heat conduction. Over time these pans develop their own non-stick surface (so you don’t have to buy non-stick surface pots and pans, which I don’t recommend).
I also like to cook with cast iron and enameled cast iron. I use glass a lot for baking which, I love. One of our favorite resources, the venerable book Prescription for Nutritional Healing (PNH), by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, highly recommends cooking only with glass, stainless steel, or cast-iron pots and pans only. Good advice.
If you own any Teflon pans, consider this list when replacing your cookware or buying something new.
Favorite Cooking Utensils
What concerns us in the kitchen is plastic. It melts, it leaches toxic chemicals into food, and I avoid it as much as I can. Nothing is more annoying than accidentally leaving a plastic utensil near the stove, only to come back to find it melted. My solution is don’t use it.
Now I use stainless-steel spatulas, ladles and spoons, wooden spoons, glass or metal measuring cups, and measuring spoons.
Reducing Your Exposure to Plastics in the Kitchen
Plastics are made from a variety of petroleum-based chemicals and ingredients. Some of those chemical ingredients can leach into our foods and drink. Plastics age and break down as they’re subjected to heat, whether it’s from a microwave, an oven, hot water, or detergents. Over time, they become brittle and cracked. When they become cracked and brittle, it is at this point they are more likely to leach toxic chemicals like BPA (bisphenol A) into your foods and drink. Plastics are also highly fat-soluble, which means they are more likely to contaminate fatty, oily foods and meats.
What is BPA or Bisphenol A?
BPA is a key chemical ingredient that is commonly found in plastics including, hard, clear plastic and in the lining of canned foods, frozen food trays and microwavable soup containers, plastic baby food packaging, and just about any “microwave safe” packaging. Studies have shown that BPA mimics human hormones like estrogen. It’s common knowledge that increased levels of hormones can encourage certain cancers. Studies have shown that BPA causes breast tissue changes that resemble early stages of breast cancer in mice and humans, and stimulates prostate cancer cells. In an article published by The Biology of Reproduction, scientists go so far as to say:
“The increased incidence of breast cancer noted during the last 50 years may have been caused, in part, by exposure of women to estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are released into the environment.”
A study done by the Centers for Disease Control detected BPA in the blood of 95% of adults tested.
In response to a food additive petition filed by the American Chemistry Council, the FDA banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups as of December 2012 but has not banned its use entirely. But according to the Washington Post, the two studies it based this decision on were funded by the chemicals industry. 92 percent of the 163 government-funded studies on the effects of BPA have uncovered important reproductive, developmental, and immune effects from low-level exposure to BPA. Of the 13 industry-funded studies, none have found significant effects.
In the Smart Plastics Guide, Healthier Food Uses of Plastics, that’s put out by the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy, they state,
“Animal studies document low dose effects at exposure levels hundreds of times lower than the current level considered “safe” by the Environmental Protection Agency…… Early life exposure to BPA can also cause genetic damage, including chromosomal errors at low levels of exposure in mice, which can lead to spontaneous miscarriages and birth defects. In humans, higher BPA levels in urine have been associated with ovarian dysfunction. Another study found that women with a history of recurrent miscarriages had over threefold higher levels of BPA in their blood compared to women without a miscarriage history.”
When it comes to microwaving foods in plastic packaging, take a cue from Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri researcher who oversaw an analysis conducted by the Milwaukee Wisconsin’s Journal Sentinel. He states, “There is no such thing as safe microwaveable plastic.” The Journal’s testing found that BPA leaches from recycling numbers 1, 2, 5, and 7.
Studies have also shown that as plastic products age and are repeatedly exposed to levels of high heat in the dishwasher and microwave, they are more likely to leach higher amounts of BPA. Now you can see why I am so against the use of plastics. I know it is hard to escape it but you can reduce your consumption and exposure to plastic by simply making different choices like choosing glass food storage containers over plastic.
Let’s not forget canned foods. As mentioned earlier, canned foods contain a plastic lining that usually contains BPA and can leach into your food. Remember BPA has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter and mimics estrogen. My advice, better to be safe than sorry. Opt for foods that come in a glass jar, and of course, make it organic.
Plastics By the Numbers
You’ve seen the numbers inside the ‘chasing arrows’ on the bottom of pretty much any plastic you pick up …a total of 7 in fact. Overwhelmed? Don’t be…here’s what you need to know. Generally speaking, plastics labeled #1 and #2 are the best choices. Here’s a breakdown of plastics by the numbers.
1. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): Juice, water, and soda bottles, peanut butter containers, detergents, and food containers. It is probably the most common and widely accepted recyclable plastic.
2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): Beverage, food, shampoo bottles, and containers; dish and laundry detergent bottles; grocery, trash, and retail bags. It is another commonly recyclable plastic that is widely accepted.
Caution: a 2008 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation uncovered that some #1 and 2 containers leached bisphenol A in the microwave (see below for more info on bisphenol A).
Since most community recycling centers, nationwide, accept #1 – PET and #2 – HDPE, if you must buy plastic, look for these numbers. The other five are much less likely to be collected. However, so you have some basic knowledge about the different plastics on the market here’s a rundown.
3. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): This is one of the worst offenders it has been called the “poison plastic” because of the health risks it poses to humans and the environment. It is rarely recyclable, is a known human carcinogen, and contains toxic hormone-disrupting phthalates that off-gas. It is widely used in the construction industry i.e. PVC piping and is commonly used in food plastic wrap, children’s and pet toys, shower curtains, and some detergent and spray bottles.
4. LDPE ( Low-Density Polyethylene): Is not as easily recycled as #1 and 2. It is used to make most plastic shopping bags, some reusable food and drink containers, and bottles and baby bottles.
5. PP (Polypropylene): Another plastic that is not commonly recycled. By many, it is considered safe because it doesn’t leach. However, the same Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found that some #5 containers do leach bisphenol A when microwaved.
6. PS – (Polystyrene): This plastic is commonly found in food containers and is used to make Styrofoam. Because it contains styrene a known neurotoxin and suspected human carcinogen, cities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco have banned it. It is not as easily recycled as #1 and 2.
7. Other Plastics: This is a catch-all category for all plastics that don’t fit into any of the above categories. It includes polycarbonate, bio-based plastics, co-polyester, acrylic, polyamide, and plastic mixtures like styrene-acrylonitrile resin (SAN).
It is important to avoid anything that is made of polycarbonate because it leaches bisphenol A. Products that are commonly labeled with #7 are baby bottles, “sippy” cups, baby food jars, sports water bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, plastic cutlery, and dinnerware. As you can imagine this category is not readily recyclable.
To sum up, the general rule of thumb when it comes to your health and plastics is as follows:
- Safest Plastics: #1, #2, #4, #5
- Use with Caution: #7
- Avoid: #3, #6, #7
Other Top Plastic Tips
Most plastic is made from nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels which include natural gas and oil. But I also understand how impossible plastic can be to avoid at times. So here are some additional need-to-know plastic insights…
Check Your Community Guidelines
Not sure which plastics your community department of sanitation accepts? Google your local Department of Sanitation or Department of Public Works. You can also learn about curbside recycling programs in your area by visiting Earth911.com and typing in your ZIP code.
Recycle Your Plastic Bags
If you’re still managing to accumulate plastic bags – despite the reusable totes you use for frequent Farmers’ Market visits – there’s good news: more retailers are accepting plastic bags for recycling, too. Find out where to recycle them in your area by visiting PlasticBagRecycling.org.
Two “Better” Plastics
Look for these two earth-friendlier labels when it comes to shopping for plastics:
- Made from recycled content
- Made with post-consumer recycled content
Post-consumer recycled means that the plastic is made from materials that had once been used, versus made from manufacturing waste that never reached consumers in the first place.
Simple Tips for Phasing Out Plastics in The Kitchen
- If you have plastic storage containers, begin swapping them out with glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel storage containers.
- Do not store fatty or oily foods in plastic containers.
- Do not store foods for long periods in plastic containers.
- If you choose to use a microwave oven, don’t heat food items in plastic containers (even if it says “microwave safe”).
Avoid storing foods in cling plastic wrap that’s made with PVC (or even low-PVC wrap). Glass, stainless steel, and aluminum foil is a safe alternatives and can be used for fatty foods, grain products, and vegetables. Don’t, however, store acidic foods like cooked fruit in aluminum foil.
If you’ve recently purchased a brand-new set of plastic storage containers and don’t want to swap them out, wash them in warm, soapy water, and avoid putting them in the dishwasher.
Replace any dry, brittle or cracked plastic containers, with glass or stainless steel storage containers.
This topic may be controversial, but I do not advocate the use of microwave ovens. They degrade the nutritional value of food, and I just don’t like the way they make food taste. This, of course, is an opinion. And let’s not forget plastics, BPA, and the microwave. Multiple studies show foods’ nutritional content declines when cooked in a microwave, but others contradict them. I haven’t used a microwave in more than 10 years, and I’ve never missed it. I also don’t like the idea of emitting microwaves in my home environment, because it has been shown they can leak. For these reasons, you must ask yourself if you want to run the risk of having a microwave in your home.
I replaced my microwave with a convection toaster oven. It is an amazing kitchen appliance that does so many of the things a microwave and large oven accomplish, in a much smaller space. Best of all, it quickly heats foods with its convection action.
The Sponge: A Bacterial Incubator
The sponge has been a great tool for the kitchen, but it may not be the healthiest or cleanest tool in your kitchen. In fact, it may be the dirtiest tool in your kitchen you are using to keep your kitchen “clean,” when in fact it may be making it dirtier. Sponges are bacterial incubators. They provide the perfect environment for virulent bacteria to thrive, a surface to cling to, and a steady nutritional food supply from food scraps and moisture.
When two microbiologists, Charles Gerbera and Carlos Enriquez at the University of Arizona Tucson, tested over one thousand sponges and dish rags from five American cities and compared it to bathrooms in the same household, what they found is shocking.
Carlos Enriques states, “. . . . consistently kitchens came up dirtier….. We have swabbed the toilet rim, for instance, and seldom do we find fecal coliform bacteria there, surprising as
that may sound. But in the kitchen, they are everywhere, the sponge, dish towels, sink, and countertops.”
On the sponges they tested, they found alive and living well on two-thirds of them:
- E. coli
- Pseudomonas (which can be resistant to antibiotics and is responsible for an increasing number of infections in hospitals)
Their study also revealed that the cleanest-looking kitchens were actually the dirtiest. It turns out that “clean freaks” who were constantly wiping down their kitchen counters were spreading around more bacteria. The truly cleanest kitchens were those kept by bachelors who did not clean.
In fact, Charles Gerba states, “You’d be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink. Your dog is right.”
Some supposed “tricks” have developed over the years to “clean” sponges, like putting them in the dishwasher, or the microwave. But unfortunately, both don’t work. The dishwasher only makes the bacteria more efficient and the microwave may contain dead spots, which would render it ineffective and you risk blowing up the microwave. My advice is better to be safe than sorry.
What’s the solution? Use, a dry, clean dish rag or towel daily. Look for quick-drying materials like microfiber cloths. Keep a stack in your kitchen drawer and pull a new one out daily and let it dry completely before you put it in the laundry (remember, bacteria thrive in a wet environment).
Healthy Cutting Boards – Plastic, Glass, or Wood?
Cutting boards are an essential kitchen tool. Much has been written and publicized about whether plastic or wood is safer. For years the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommended the use of plastic cutting boards. However, two different studies done by top researchers and biologists at two different college institutions prove otherwise.
Food microbiologists Dean O. Cliver and Nese O. Ak at the University of Wisconsin wanted to develop a sanitization technique for wood-cutting boards. They inoculated wood and plastic cutting boards with over 10,000 E.coli and salmonella bacteria. The startling results, within three minutes of the inoculation virtually all of the bacteria on the wood cutting board were gone. The bacteria on the plastic cutting board after three minutes was still alive and going strong. 22
The researchers went on to try several other experiments. They left damp and dirty cutting boards out overnight. The next day, the bacteria on the plastic cutting boards dramatically increased while the bacteria on the wood cutting boards were completely gone.
They further tested numerous types of wood and plastic cutting boards and found that all wood cutting boards or wood fibers absorb and kill bacteria. Plastic cutting boards with their cracks and crevices from use encouraged bacteria growth. The crevices and cracks created from knife use, make perfect hiding places for bacteria to hide and thrive for weeks.23 Like the sponge, running a plastic cutting board through a dishwasher only makes the bacteria more efficient. And microwaving them doesn’t do anything either as they don’t get hot enough.
A second study done by Philip H. Kass at the University of California Davis concluded that people who use plastic or glass cutting boards were twice as likely to contract salmonella poisoning as those who use wood cutting boards.
Another advantage of wood cutting boards is that wood will help keep your knives sharp. I recommend keeping at least two cutting boards in the kitchen, one for veggies and one for meat. I however have six, all different sizes and shapes. Believe me, they come in handy when throwing a dinner party and your friends want to help in the kitchen. Let’s not forget the small handy cutting boards that are great for throwing a block of cheese on or an appetizer. I recommend bamboo cutting boards as bamboo is a sustainable material. There are wood cutting boards coming on the market today that are FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council).
Where Can I Learn More?
Awareness is the first step for the empowered green consumer. You can immediately begin to clean up your home and life by learning to recognize what’s really in the products you’re buying.
Click the links below to learn more about Living Green:
- What is Green Living?
- Can a Green Living Lifestyle Help Prevent Disease?
- Reasons That Going Green and Sustainable Living Makes Sense
Interested in enrolling in a course that will show you more benefits of a lifestyle based on holistic green living? You can learn more about becoming a Certified Holistic Living Coach.
And, we have even more…
Becoming a Certified Wellness Coach is the perfect addition for the fitness professional who wants to offer more all-inclusive wellness services to clients. The time is now for you to enjoy this exciting and rewarding career, which offers you personal fulfillment while improving the lives of others.
There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.
NESTA and Spencer Institute has been helping people like you since 1992. To date, over 65,000 people from around the world have benefited from our various certifications, programs, continuing education courses and business development systems. We are here for you now and in the future. Feel confident in your decision to work with us as you advance your knowledge and career. We are here for you each step of the way.
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