Food is a source of nourishment and energy you need for life. What you can live without are toxins in your food. The list of toxins you’re routinely exposed to through diet runs the gamut from pesticide residues and heavy metals to synthetic chemicals like food colorings and preservatives. Fortunately, your liver has the ability to break down some toxins so they can be eliminated before they cause problems. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables, helps your liver modify the structure of toxins so your kidneys can remove them more easily from your body. Still, it’s best to decrease the number of unhealthy chemicals you’re exposed to through diet. Here are some ways to reduce dietary toxins.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #1: Eliminate Processed Foods
Processed foods contain synthetic preservatives, food colorings and other ingredients that make them a less healthy choice compared to whole foods. For example, MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is added to some processed foods as a flavor enhancer. Some people are sensitive to even low levels of MSG and can develop neurological symptoms from foods seasoned with it. Plus, some processed foods still contain trans-fat and many are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. When you phase processed foods out of your diet, you reduce exposure to these chemicals. This gives your liver fewer toxins to deal with.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #2: Choose Organic Meat and Dairy
When you buy organic meat and dairy, you reduce exposure to antibiotics and added growth hormone that conventional meat manufacturers use to increase the size and weight of livestock. The animals also eat organic feed so they’re exposed to fewer dietary toxins themselves. Why is this important? The animals sequester toxins inside fat cells. When you eat meat, you’re exposed to them too. It’s a good idea to diversify your protein sources by adding more high-protein plant-based foods to your diet. Eating a varied diet limits your exposure to a single toxin.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #3: Buy Local and Organic Fruit and Vegetables
If you’re willing to pay a little more, choose organic fruits and vegetables. If you buy conventionally-grown produce, rinse them thoroughly in tap water before eating them. According to a study carried out by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, tap water significantly reduces the quantity of most, but not all, pesticides on fruits and vegetables. In fact, simple tap water worked as well as commercial produce washes and washing with 1% dishwashing detergent. Using detergent or soap isn’t a good idea anyway since it can leave residues on the produce.
Buying locally also helps to reduce exposure to pesticides since family farms don’t typically use the same quantities of pesticides that large producers do. Plus, you can talk to the farmer and find out what pesticide practices they use before buying. Take a trip to your local farmer’s market and talk to the farmers. Find one you trust and buy produce from them often.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #4: Be Careful What You Store Your Food In
Still storing foods in plastic containers? Many plastic containers contain BPA (bisphenol A), a chemical linked with fertility problems, that can leech into food, especially when the food is acidic or exposed to heat. Plus, plastic containers contain phthalates, chemicals that disrupt hormone signals in your body. Stick with glass and stainless steel containers when you cook or store food. Avoid buying items at the supermarket that come in plastic containers to reduce your exposure to BPA and phthalates.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #5: Choose Seafood Wisely
Cold water fish like wild-caught salmon and sardines are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3s. That’s why they deserve a place on the dinner table – but stay away from farm-raised salmon and other farmed fish. They may contain high levels of dioxins and PCBs, toxins that are suspected carcinogens. Avoid large fish that are high on the food chain too since they accumulate higher levels of mercury.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #6: Eat More Foods That Help Your Liver Break Down Toxins
Even if you eat an organic diet and avoid processed foods, you’ll still be exposed to some dietary toxins, although in lower amounts. Eating more vegetables, especially cruciferous ones, drinking green tea and seasoning your food with spices like turmeric and garlic helps your liver break these toxins down into a form your kidneys can eliminate.
Consuming more dietary fiber also reduces toxin burden by binding toxins in your digestive tract before they can be absorbed. There’s also some evidence that eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt helps your body detoxify by removing heavy metals.
Reduce Dietary Toxins Tip #7: Watch How You Cook Your Food
Cooking meat to high temperatures by grilling or deep frying produces hydrocarbons and toxins like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are linked with an increased risk for cancer. Choose cooking methods where the meat is exposed to moisture and marinate meat in an acidic marinade before cooking it. This reduces the amount of HCAs produced when meat is exposed to high temperatures.
The Bottom Line?
It’s impossible to eat a completely toxin-free diet, but you can reduce your exposure to potential toxins by following these guidelines. Think about what you’re eating, where it comes from, how you cook and what you store it in. It matters when it comes to your health.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “Removal of Trace Pesticide Residues from Produce”
Can J Microbiol. 2006 Sep;52(9):877-85.
UC Davis Health System. “Study Finds High Exposure to Food-Borne Toxins”