By Lifestyle Contributor Jen Vertz
I used to eat, drink and basically do whatever I wanted without a concern for my health. If you knew me at a certain point of my life, I always had a Red Bull or coffee in my hand, was chewing gum, and was covered in paint. For years, I lived in an art studio, surrounded by chemicals and paint, that should have been better ventilated. My signature fragrance was Michael Kors, I loved getting my nails done, and for the past 10+ years, you'd have never seen me without makeup. I drank coffee only with a straw so my teeth would stay whiter, and I lived in a situation where plastic bottled water just seemed more convenient, so that's what I had. When I was living in the city, I ate out almost every day or had packaged foods, because it was so much easier than preparing meals at home.
Then I started having some health problems. My main issues are based in my reproductive system (including several surgeries to remove fibroid tumors). Of course, when something like this happens, you start researching like crazy, diving into Google even when your doctor says you shouldn't. I ended up discovering some potential reasons for my issues, and decided to make some drastic food and lifestyle changes. The one I'm really going focus on today is my attempt to eliminate as much plastic and endrocrine-distrupting chemicals as possible.
It turns out that we are surrounded by these dangerous chemicals every single day. Synthetic chemicals in everyday products like plastics and fragrances can imitate hormones and disturb your fragile endocrine system. (Did you know that even BPA-Free plastics contain estrogen blocking chemicals that disrupt your hormones and cause health problems?) Thankfully, lowering the amount of exposure can save you from a number of detrimental health issues. And it's not even that hard! If you are lucky enough to have kids, it's especially important to limit their exposure due to their high vulnerability.
Here are a few things that I have changed to try to avoid the worst of the chemicals. Since we'll never be able to get all plastics or toxins out of our lives, the key is to make a real effort to lower your exposure.
- plastic straws
- gum (most are plastic based)
- fragrances (they contain phthalates so the fragrances stick)
- plastic water bottles
- regular household cleaners (check the labels and go natural)
- plastic bags (even reusable grocery bags)
- plastics in general (even BPA-free plastic which has estrogenic chemicals linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals)
- products with phalates or parabens (ie. sunscreen, lotion, soap and other personal hygiene products)
- plastic food storage containers
- liquid soap to all natural bar soap
- plastic food storage containers to glass
- canned food for homemade foods (canned food comes in metal lined with plastics)
- boxed milk to homemade coconut or almond milk (boxes also lined with plastic)
- vinyl or plastic reusable bags to canvas bags
- foods packaged in plastic for foods in glass
- plastic sink sponge to a cotton washcloth
- coffee maker to a ceramic single serving coffee maker
- plastic sandwich baggies to parchment paper bags
- canned sparkling water to bottled sparkling water (soda cans are lined with plastics)
- poly blend socks, underware and some clothing for 100% cotton or bamboo alternatives (where I could without breaking the bank)
- washing my hands more often and always before eating
- refusing receipts as often as I can (thermal receipts have a thin coating of an endocrine-disrupting chemical powder that raises your internal BPA levels)
- eating organic every time it is possible
- dusting my house more often (chemicals like fire retardants escape from electronics, couches, baby products, etc. and collect in your household dust)
I had the hardest time in my bathroom, but I was ultimately able to make some changes there too. Compromise is key. I switched my toothbrush to a bamboo one (but go back to the Sonic Care a few times a week). I made my own terrible tasting toothpaste that just made me want to skip brushing all together (and admittedly ended up going back to my old one in a plastic tube). I found a good website for DIY shampoo and conditioners. And I traded all of my makeup for those with less chemicals - and I could do an entire post about how that worked (and in some cases, didn't.).
Basically, it is my opinion that we all need to start thinking about this and making an effort to reduce exposure where we can. One way to do this is to ask the companies that make the products that you love to switch their packaging and to remove harmful materials! You can also try your best to keep toxic chemicals out of your food, water, and homes - and do it before health problems start. You can use the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, EWG's Food Scores, and the Guide to Healthy Cleaning to make regular checks on products you buy. And below you'll find two of my favorite staple food recipes that I've found helpful in making the prices of eliminating plastic and toxins easier - beans from scratch and homemade coconut milk.
BEANS FROM SCRATCH
Buy beans in bulk and store in glass. I really love the pinto beans - they're perfect in tacos which are a staple in our house. I'll cook them for almost 2 hours, then jar half of them for whole beans, then cook the remainder down and mash for refried beans.
6 Cloves Garlic
4 Tablespoons oregano
2 tsp salt
2 stp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
Rinse beans in a colander well and remove any that look discolored. Soak 2.5 cups of beans (or 1lb dry beans) overnight (or for at least 8 hours) with 10 cups of water. After soaking, rinse well with cold water. In a stock pot, add the rinsed beans and a fresh 12 cups of water (or enough that it is 2" above the beans). Bring beans to a boil and add all other ingredients. Reduce boil to a low simmer and cook until desired tenderness (from 45 mins to 2.5 hours). Keep checking beans and add more water as needed. Drain and allow to cool before storing.
This goes so fast in my house. We always have a mason jar of coconut milk in the fridge for everything from cereal to soups!
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups water
Heat shredded coconut and water on the stove. Just when it starts to boil, turn it off and allow to cool.
Once cooled to the touch, blend for several minutes until thick and creamy. (You may have to do 2 batches if you have a small blender like mine.) Pour through cheesecloth and squeeze to remove all of the liquid. Add strawberries, vanilla, or banana, and blend again for flavored coconut milk. Best used within 3-4 days after making. Store in a large jar with a wide mouth so you can remove the cream, which rises to the top. Or just shake or stir and keep the cream for a thick, delicious drink! Cream can be used to make coconut whipped cream.
Do you have any tips or tricks to helping reduce the amounts of plastics and/or harmful toxins in your life? I'd love to hear them! Cheers, here is to a healthier YOU! - Jen
top image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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