Chemicals In Food

What Chemicals Are in The Food We Eat?

Chemicals are used in every step of the process that puts food on our table: production, harvesting, processing, packing, transport, marketing and consumption and can be dangerous to our health.  Some of these chemicals remain in our food and many persist in the environment and our bodies for decades to come.

Preservatives are added to many processed foods including breads, cereals, and meat.  Studies have found additives are a source of headaches, nausea, weakness and difficulty breathing. New research has shown that they may damage human nerve cells. We do not fully understand all of the long-term effects that additives could have on our health because synthetic additives are a relatively new invention.

Certain fish contain toxic chemicals called Perchlorinated biphenyls (PCBs-which have been banned but remain in our environment and end up in our food system) or heavy metals such as mercury. PCBs can damage the developing brain and have been linked to behavioural disorders. Heavy metals like mercury may lower IQ and also cause visual or hearing impairment.

Food packaged in plastic may contain phthalates or other harmful chemicals. As the chemicals can seep from the packaging into the food itself. Research has linked phthalates to behavioural disorders. 

How can we avoid toxins in food?

We cannot avoid toxicants in our food entirely, but we can do several things to reduce our current and future exposure, including:

  • Choose organic, sustainable, and less-toxic options. You can lower your pesticide intake by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and potatoes. When possible buy organic for this produce.
  • Choosing to buy food with less and safer packaging and few or no preservatives is also a good first step in reducing exposure.
  • Support institutions, such as schools and hospitals, in purchasing more sustainable food. With their large purchasing power, institutions can make a significant impact on the health of their community and the people they serve through the food they purchase. From kids and teachers in schools to patients, staff and visitors at hospitals, millions of people spend money and eat food in institutions every day. Encourage institutions to purchase more sustainable food and support them by ordering it when they do. 
  • Demand national & local food, farm and chemicals policy changes.

What Chemicals are in our bodies?

We don’t have adequate data to know how many chemicals each of us is exposed to every day, or which ones we will carry in our bodies for the rest of our lives. We use roughly 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides per year in this country. Studies of chemical residues in the urine of the U.S. population have shown that most Americans have measurable amounts of pesticides in their bodies. Researchers have also found pesticides in amniotic fluid that surround the developing foetus. 

A Washington University researcher tested urine samples from local children and found that some pesticides were five to seven times higher in children eating a conventional diet versus those eating an organic one. 

Packaging also plays its role as it is likely that dietary ingestion is the reason 90% of people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of BPA in their urine. 

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention studies document that childhood exposure to phthalates is widespread. The CDC found that children aged 6-11 years old excrete higher concentrations of phthalate metabolites than older age groups. Possibly due to higher food consumption related to body weight, mouthing behaviour, and/or playing near the ground.  You can also download this PDF from Physicians for Social Responsibility, for more information

Take a look at the table: The Chemicals in Our Food – for more information on what exactly it is that we pump into our bodies daily through our ‘food’.

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