Three Dangerous Food Toxins

Shocking new research shows that high levels of harmful chemicals are lurking in the foods we eat every day. Here’s how to keep them off your plate.

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Environmental pollution is a global crisis that affects all of us on a very local level - at the dining room table. Brand-new studies show that high levels of toxic chemicals are in our tuna salads, our green bean casseroles, and even our apple pies. They threaten our children's development and put us at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The good news is that you can still eat the food you love and reduce your exposure to these deadly poisons. Follow these straightforward steps to detoxify your family's food supply.

Mercury in Fish

The Hidden Danger

Eating fish seems like one of the healthiest food choices you can make; fish is low in fat and high in protein and brain-supporting Omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately their homes - our oceans, seas, and lakes - are filled with pollutants. One of the most potent is methylmercury, which once absorbed by algae sets off a chain of toxic accumulation: small fish eat the algae, bigger fish eat the smaller fish and so on up the food chain until these mercury-packed fish find their way to your supermarket.

When mercury gets into our bloodstream, it goes right to our brain and attacks our nervous system. Left untreated it can cause permanent neuropsychiatric brain damage, learning disorders in children, autoimmune disease, and even heart problems.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning:

  • Difficulty thinking and/or concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Unsteady gait
  • Numbness in fingers and toes

Your Safety Strategy

Even if you don't have these symptoms, mercury can still do you harm. It is the second most toxic agent next to plutonium, so experts recommend minimizing it as much as possible in your diet.

As a general rule, fish that are larger and caught when they are older have the most mercury. Salmon, which are usually caught around the age of 3, have some of the lowest levels (plus the highest levels of omega-3s) making them a great choice. Other small, young fish include herrings and sardines. Among the fish with the highest levels are tuna (especially albacore), tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel and shark. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that people eat albacore tuna once a week at most and chunk tuna no more than twice a week. Pregnant women (or those trying to conceive) should avoid high-mercury fish as much as possible.


The Hidden Danger

Often referred to as BPA, this chemical is used to create clear, hard plastics (such as reuseable water bottles) and line metal cans to protect us from botulism. Unfortunately, animal studies have shown that high levels of BPA lead to obesity, fertility problems, breast and prostate cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Even more troubling - human studies are beginning to show similar results.

Recent tests discovered that more than 90% of us have a measurable level of BPA in our bloodstreams and experts say that children who eat several daily servings of canned food (which includes juices, infant formula, as well as fruits and vegetables) can receive a dose of BPA comparable to the levels that caused harm in animal studies.

Your Safety Strategy

  • Steer clear of any containers with the number 7 and the initials PC on the bottom as well as any clear, hard plastic containers with no labeling.
  • Buy BPA-free baby bottles and training cups.
  • Switch to stainless steel or aluminum sports water bottles.
  • Heat food in glass containers in the microwave.
  • Look for alternatives to canned food, beverages, and infant formula. Choose fresh or frozen whenever possible.


Even though we always hear about the benefits of organic food, one-third of all fruits and vegetables sold in this country are still covered in pesticides. These poisons, which are intended to kill pests, can also hurt us . Research shows that some of them - called neurotoxins - can harm our brains and nervous systems. One recent study found that children with a high level of a certain pesticide had an increased chance of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and developmental disorders similar to autism. Other pesticides, which mimic hormone activity, can possibly reduce fertility. And scientists recently discovered that exposure to one of the most common weed killers increased weight gain in animals by 10%.

Your Safety Strategy

A Seattle study demonstrates how going organic can immediately affect our health. Researchers tested the urine of a group of typical suburban kids and found pesticide levels above those considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Then they switched the kids to organic versions of the same foods, and the pesticide level in their urine dropped overnight and stayed low. When the children were returned to their regular diets, their pesticide levels shot right back up above the EPA safety limits.

  • Go organic when it counts. Save your money for the fruits and vegetables most likely to contain pesticides (check out our guide to When to Go Organic [LINK]) and to those you eat frequently. As a general rule, fruits and vegetables with thicker rinds such as bananas, oranges, and avocados will have lower levels of pesticides than those with more permeable skin such as potatoes and strawberries.
  • Eat seasonal and local produce, which will have a lower pesticide level, because it does not have to travel far to get to your table.