We are exposed to thousands of chemicals and pollutants in our home and environment every day and many of them are suspected to be or known to be carcinogenic.
A few organizations review research on commonly used chemicals and report on their carcinogenic status (International Agency for Research on Cancer, National Toxicology Program, Environmental Protection Agency). This does not necessarily mean these products are removed from our lives. Many household products contain harmful ingredients, but they claim they are not at levels to cause harm. The problem is that we are using many different products which add up and these chemical cocktails may actually amplify the levels of toxic exposure in our bodies (Goodson et al, 2015).
It is easy to become paranoid about every product that we use in our homes and put on and in our bodies. For me, the paranoia only increased when I learned that ingredients are not required to be listed on cleaning solutions, and many companies are using words and packaging to make them look “green” while in reality they are just as bad as the conventional products.
I tend to feel overwhelmed when I see a list of chemicals and additives to avoid. If all of the ingredients are not listed on the bottles, how do we even screen for these? And how are we supposed to remember names like 2-butoxyethanol?!
Rather than walking around paranoid, stressed, and overwhelmed, I created actionable steps to help easily avoid many of the harmful chemicals around us.
This summary is a result of hours and hours of researching so I hope it helps you quickly get up to speed to detox your kitchen!
Below are the main steps to detox our kitchens. These steps will not remove every toxin, but it is based on the research and recommendations from organizations such as the Environmental Working Group.
Use stainless steel, ceramic, or glass to store food. Avoid plastic as much as possible.
Replace plastic Tupperware with glass food storage containers, mason jars, or ceramic containers. BPA found in hard plastics may increase risk of breast and prostate cancer (Seachrist et al, 2016). Even if plastics are labeled BPA free, they may contain other potentially harmful ingredients. For example, phthalates are additives used to help soften plastics and are believed to disrupt hormone regulation and potentially increase risk of cancers such as testicular cancer (Meeker et al, 2009). The National Toxicology Program (NTP) rates phthalates as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.
Avoid styrofoam. Styrofoam contains styrene which is classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the NTP.
Look for “BPA free” on cans. BPA is also in the lining of cans (including drinks). Look for the “BPA free” label. Many organic canned beans will have this labeled.
Avoid plastic wrap. Plastic wrap can contain PVC, and vinyl chloride (used to make PVC) is classified as “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Filter drinking water.
There are many contaminants in the water that we drink (yes, even bottled water). For example, chromium 6 (the focus on the movie Erin Brockovich) is in much of our water supply (check out amounts in your area here). Two great options for filtering our water are gravity filters with carbon filters, and reverse osmosis systems. The filters that attach to our faucets or the pitcher type filters do not filter out as many contaminants.
You can find out what is in your water by looking at the “Consumer Confidence Report” that your water company is required to send to you on July 1st each year. You can find it online using this handy searchable map provided by the EPA.
Take these precautions when heating food:
Use stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, or glass to heat foods or liquids. Avoid heating food in plastic (examples: Tupperware, plastic kettles, plastic liners for crock pot, etc). Heating plastic causes chemicals to seep into the water/food at up to 55 times the rate before heating (Le et al, 2008).
When microwaving, cover with a paper towel instead of plastic to avoid plastic leaching into your food.
Use oils carefully.
- High omega 6 and low omega 3 has been linked to increased inflammation and rate of diseases including cancer (Ramadan et al, 2010; Simopoulos, 2002). Avocado oil and olive oil are good choices, however olive oil has a lower “smoke point” so it should not be used with high heat (see next point). Vegetable oils have a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio and should be avoided altogether (corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil). These also tend to be highly processed and genetically modified and may contain additional pesticides and contaminants.
- Cook on lowest heat possible with healthy oils that can withstand high heat (unrefined cold-pressed avocado oil). Many oils break down at low temperatures (called their “smoke point”) resulting in free radicals (olive oil).
- My go-to oil choices are unrefined cold-pressed avocado oil (high smoke point and good omega 6/3 ratio), virgin cold-pressed coconut oil (high in saturated fat so I use small amounts), and extra-virgin olive oil for dressing and sauces only (not for heating). Another option is red palm oil (make sure it is CSPO certified sustainable).
If you choose to eat meat, cook on low heat. Heterocyclic amines are formed when cooking meat at high temperatures and are “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the NTP.
Replace nonstick pots and pans with stainless steel or cast iron. Nonstick has a Teflon (PTFE) coating. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used to create Teflon, is rated “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer due to some research studies linking it to testicular cancer, among others. While PFOA is mostly burned off in the process of making Teflon, it is known that fumes from a Teflon coated pan can produce fever-like symptoms (polymer flu fever) and kill pet birds (Greenberg et al, 2015).
Replace plastic cutting boards with bamboo cutting boards to avoid pieces of plastic in your food.
Buy organic produce to reduce exposure to pesticides from ingestion and build up on kitchen surfaces.
Replace cleaners with safer alternatives. Safe alternatives are difficult to identify since the ingredients are not required to be listed on cleaning solutions. Cleaners routinely used in our kitchens include harmful ingredients such as glycol ethers, ammonia, phthalates, chlorine, and lye (sodium hydroxide) among others. I have provided some DIY solutions as well as links to products you can buy that have an “A” rating from the Environmental Working Group.
- Mop floors with a wet mop rather than chemicals. Or try this one which has an “A” rating from EWG.
- Hand wash dishes with liquid castile dish soap
- For dishwashing detergent use 1 tablespoon of washing soda with a couple drops of liquid castile dish soap and put white vinegar in the rinse dispenser (organic white vinegar to avoid GMOs). Or try this one.
- Clean windows with newspaper and diluted white vinegar.
- Use a safe general purpose cleaner (4 cups warm water, 1 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp liquid castile soap, essential oils; shake and put in a spray bottle). Or try this one.
- Avoid anything with the generic word “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. The fragrance commonly contains phthalates along with other chemical cocktails. Avoid plug-in air fresheners as well. Use essential oils instead.
- Use baking soda and water instead of chemical oven cleaners.
- Replace your antibacterial soap. Antibacterial soap contains Triclosan which is now banned by the FDA. According to the FDA, plain soap and water just as effective as antibacterial soap (and cheaper)!
- Open windows, use gloves, be careful not to inhale fumes
- NEVER mix cleaners containing chlorine bleach with products that contain vinegar, ammonia, or oxygen bleach. This generates toxic fumes. Keep this in mind as you transition to DIY solutions.
The scientific community is still researching and developing their understanding on how various toxins affect the body. Just because we are exposed to one of these toxins, doesn’t necessarily mean we will develop a health problem or cancer. There are many factors involved including our lifestyle, immune system, method of exposure, amount of exposure, etc. It takes a long time to fully understand the effects of toxins on our bodies and even longer for a “fix” to be implemented in our stores. Rather than wait around for years for the answers, these steps are precautions based on what knowledge is out there.
Take it one step at a time and you will find that these steps are easier to implement than you think!
Goodson WH et al. Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead. Carcinogenesis. 2015;36 Suppl 1:S254-96.
Greenberg MI et al. Metal fume fever and polymer fume fever. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2015;53(4):195-203.
Le HH et al. Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons. Toxicol Lett. 2008;176(2):149-56.
Meeker JD et al. Phthalates and other additives in plastics: human exposure and associated health outcomes. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci. 2009;364(1526):2097-113.
NTP (National Toxicology Program). 2016. Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition.; Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/roc14/
Ramsden CE et al. n-6 fatty acid-specific and mixed polyunsaturate dietary interventions have different effects on CHD risk: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2010;104(11):1586-600.
Seachrist DD et al. A review of the carcinogenic potential of bisphenol A. Reprod Toxicol. 2016;59:167-82.
Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56(8):365-79.