How to choose safer foods for your family

What’s a parent to do when they find out that the healthy food they’re feeding their kids is in fact exposing them to some serious harmful chemicals? Green Living expert, Aida Garcia-Toledo discusses.

Healthy kids breakfast
Jamie Grill/ Blended Images/ Getty Images

As parents, most of us go out of our way to feed our children healthy foods. When possible, we buy organic, choose whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables and healthy snack options. Suddenly however, many of us have found ourselves second-guessing these supposedly ‘healthy’ food choices.

The reason? Two new studies that have brought to light that our food might not be as clean and toxin-free as we think it is.

First, the Environmental Working Group published their research that found the suspected carcinogenic pesticide Glyphosate in some of the most popular snack and breakfast foods in the country. Their study found high levels (although, still permitted by US Federal standards) of the toxin in Cheerios, Quaker Oats Oatmeals, Nature Valley Granola Bars and a list of both organic and non-organic oat products, many of which are commonly consumed by kids on a daily basis.

Days later, a study conducted by Consumer Reports, found lead and other heavy metals in organic and non-organic baby foods. This particular report brought to light the fact that, because heavy metals sometimes come from the soil and air, even certified organic products can and do contain some levels of heavy metals.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT US?

We know that babies, toddlers and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to both pesticides and heavy metals due to their smaller size and developing brains and organ systems. Heavy metal exposure, even in small amounts, may increase the risk of lower IQ and behavioral problems and has been linked to Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Glyphosate, which the EPA has continued to say is safe under their federal limit, has been named a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the State of California.

Parents have been left worried, confused and wondering ‘what in the world can I feed my kids that’s safe?!’

HOW TO CHOOSE SAFER ALTERNATIVES

If you’re wondering what’s meant by ‘safer alternatives’? Well the reality is that today, even organic foods run the risk of having some pesticide (mostly trace) levels and/or heavy metals. In order to choose ‘safer’ foods it is important to understand the following:

Eat a balanced nutritious diet

Why? Research shows that people who have good levels of minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, selenium and magnesium greatly reduce metal toxicity, especially from lead (but also cadmium and mercury) since these essential chemicals interfere with the absorption of the harmful metals. If the body is deficient in some of these vitamins/minerals it can lead to increased absorption of and less protection from heavy metals.

Organic is still better

Certified Organic foods will always contain lower levels (or no levels) of pesticides. They will also be free of added hormones or genetically modified organisms.

Stay calm

Do not panic if your child has been consuming foods that were found high in Glyphosate or heavy metals. The fact is that this doesn’t mean a child will necessarily develop any of these disabilities – but it does increase their risk. So make changes as soon as possible.

Be proactive

The good news is, while you might not be able to completely control the presence of some levels of heavy metal and pesticides in your food, you CAN control the following:

  • Check your water supply. Have it tested and if required purchase a water filter that meets your needs.
  • Test for lead exposure from old paint. If you live in a pre-1978 home and see any cracks in your paint, test to see if there’s lead and have it mitigated by experts.
  • Decrease your exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals. These are found predominantly in plastics, pesticides, or products containing synthetic fragrances.
  • Protect and strengthen your child’s immune system. The key to a strong immune system is a healthy and varied diet, plenty of sleep, lots of love and affection, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics where possible. Remember that getting minor colds is all part of increasing and strengthening your child’s immunity.
  • Grow your own. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to ensure no heavy metals or pesticides in your produce. Just test your soil for arsenic first to confirm!
  • Wash and Peel. You can decrease heavy metals in some produce by scrubbing the skin (to get rid of any soil containing arsenic) well before consuming and/or peeling the skin (this is especially true for root vegetables like beets, turnips, carrots, radishes and potatoes which have arsenic mostly in their skins).

Eat less of or avoid all-together 

  • Non-Organic Foods. If it’s not organic it will be treated with Glyphosate and/or other harmful pesticides.
  • Oats (includes cereal and granola). Because both non-organic and some organic oats were found to contain Glyphosate, it’s best to avoid conventional oat products (granola, oatmeal, cereals) and proceed with caution on the organic oat front.
  • Rice. Rice products are known to contain arsenic. In fact, rice products fared worse than any other product in recent Consumer Report testing. Rice products can also contain lead and cadmium. This includes rice, rice crackers, cereals, infant rice cereals, rice based milk and rice-based baby formula, rice-based pasta and brown rice syrup. White basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan and sushi rice from the US tend to have lower arsenic levels that other types of rice.
  • Processed Snack Food. Bars, cookies, crackers, crunches, crisps, puffs, chips and rice rusks and other teething biscuits—were most problematic, once again because of their rice and/or oat content. Choose more whole foods and stay away from processed foods when possible.
  • Fish: Bigeye tuna, king mackerel, orange roughy, shark, and swordfish are particularly high in methylmercury.
  • Certain roots and leafy greens. Sweet potatoes and leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale have been found to absorb higher levels of heavy metals. These are also nutrient dense foods which should not necessarily be eliminated so just reduce their frequency