Antoaneta Tscocheva delves into our kitchen cupboards and explains how we can all cut down on the hidden, harmful chemicals that often lurk inside.
Over the years, our kitchens have become filled with hidden toxins – from pesticides on our fruit and veg to the plastics we store them in. We don’t always notice the effects of these toxins on ourselves and the environment, but many of the chemicals lurking in our cupboards have been linked to skin problems, allergies and inflammation.
Phthalates (found in plastics), for example, are often listed as potential endocrine disruptors. This means that prolonged exposure can alter the hormonal balance in the body, opening the door to a whole host of health problems, including obesity, reproductive issues and even cancer.
These chemicals also pollute our streams and rivers – and that’s before we’ve even factored in the plastic packaging that they come in, much of which isn’t, or cannot be, recycled
Some would say this is one of the most important, yet overlooked, issues of our time. Thankfully, retailers are recognising this and coming up with eco-friendly, toxin-free alternatives that you can gradually introduce into your life.
The problem with plastic
It’s no surprise that plastics are the number one pollutant, present in nearly almost all households across the globe. But it’s hard to blame the average person for it.
Plastics are lightweight, easier to maintain and cheaper than most of their sustainable counterparts. However, all of this comes at a price – plastic food containers, cups, bottles and dishes can leach hazardous chemicals into your food and beverages. Some of these chemicals have been linked to metabolic disorders, skin problems, reduced fertility, and more.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, heat exposure tends to make this much worse. So, if you’re in the habit of microwaving last night’s leftovers in plastic containers, you might want to rethink your strategy. To top it all off, plastics are also incredibly harmful to the environment, with your average plastic bottle taking about 450 years minimum to fully degrade.
Instead of buying plastic dinnerware this summer, choose bamboo, stainless steel or coconut. And for storage, opt for glass jars, bamboo and straw bowls and baskets, or cotton bags.
Most store-bought cleaning solutions come with a laundry list of toxins. Go to your kitchen, pick up the first cleaning product that you see and take a look at the label. You’re guaranteed to find at least a handful of chemical ingredients. Of course, that is to be expected. After all, why would they come with so many warnings on the label if they were completely safe? Try switching to all-natural solutions instead. Check out eco-blogger Madeliene Olivier for some easy recipes which harness the power of ingredients like bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and lemon.
Fruit and veg
Almost 400 different pesticides are used in non-organic farming, and the Pesticide Action Network have raised concerns about the long-term effects of our ingestion of traces of these chemicals, particularly when they’re mixed together (what they call ‘The cocktail effect’).
Tests show that traces of pesticides are present in about half of all the fruit and veg you can buy in the UK, which is why it’s important to take your time washing them, especially if you’re not buying 100 per cent organic. Washing your produce with ionised water is an excellent way to decrease your exposure to pesticides, whilst buying organic where possible will help prevent pollution, diversity loss and degradation of our soils.
A significant portion of the tinned foods that you find in the shops contain traces of BPA (Bisphenol A – an industrial chemical in use since the 1950s). We’re not talking about huge doses – and it’s worth pointing out that the Food Standards Agency believe these amounts to be safe – but Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor and prolonged consumption can mess with your hormonal balance in the long run.
If you’re concerned, switching is fairly simple – buy frozen sweetcorn instead of tinned, choose dried beans and cook them yourself, or look for glass jars of things like olives and pre-prepared sauces.
You’ve probably heard of safety concerns surrounding non-stick pan coatings. Teflon is the brand name for a group of chemicals and – whilst very stable – it can break down at very high temperatures and be released into the air.
The same group of chemicals are present in fast food wrappings and popcorn bags of the microwaveable variety. The PFCs used in the production of these non-stick coatings are yet another family of endocrine disruptors, linked to liver, kidney and reproductive problems. Most of these wrappers are not recyclable, adding to our mountains of landfill, too.
The best alternative here is sticking to ceramic or, in the case of pans, stainless steel kitchenware. If you’re craving some popcorn for movie night, just buy some organic popping corn and prep it yourself. It’s better for you and tastes delicious.