Most of us heard the recent news reports about how 95% of baby foods contain toxic metals. Many adult foods also contain these same hazardous chemicals as a result of environmental pollution. You can reduce the amount of the environmental pollutants that you consume by selecting healthier options.
Heavy metals and organic compounds are found in the air, water, soil, sediments and food. Certain foods tend to collect these hazardous chemicals easier than others. For example, fish can be contaminated with mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Fruits and rice can contain arsenic. Fat in meat and dairy can harbor pesticides. These foods are part of a well-balanced diet, but you can choose types that tend to contain less harmful materials.
Fish is a high-quality protein that contains many essential nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases. However, fish can contain mercury in different concentrations depending on the type of fish. Mercury is found in small amounts naturally, but it is also released in the air through industrial processes. Once airborne, it falls back to the ground and can accumulate in streams.
Not all fish have the same amount mercury. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting your fish consumption to two meals per week and choosing types that have lower mercury levels such as canned light tuna, catfish, pollock, salmon and shrimp. Fish may also contain PCBs in their fat. You can reduce your exposure by removing the fatty parts when cleaning and cooking fish.
Arsenic can form naturally but it is also found near mining sites, in some pesticides and through smoking. Research has linked arsenic to an increase risk of skin, lung and bladder cancers. Rice, fruit and fruit juices can contain arsenic. Some types of rice and other grains tend to have lower levels of arsenic. These include brown basmati rice and white rice grown in California, Pakistan and India, sushi rice from the U.S. and other whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and millet have some of the lower levels of arsenic. Cooking the rice in extra water will remove about half of the arsenic in the food. Thoroughly washing the skins of all produce will help remove arsenic.
Pesticides collect in the fatty parts of meat and dairy products. Choose low-fat meat and dairy products. Trimming existing fat from meat will help.
(Sources: Dawn Brewer, assistant professor and Courtney Luecking, assistant extension professor)
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