I’m a Nutritional Therapist, and one of the questions I get asked the most is “what should I eat for…….” Understandably, my clients want to know what to eat to help them with their particular health condition or complaint.
So, when I start asking them questions like “what skincare products do you use?” “how do you store your food?” and “what do you cook with?” I get some weird looks. I can almost hear them thinking, why the hell is she asking me that? What’s it got to do with how I feel?
Well, quite a lot in fact. What we put on our bodies and affects our health just like what we put in. What’s in our environment plays a significant role in our wellbeing, and we can’t ignore it any longer.
If you are someone who has made healthy changes to their diet, exercises regularly and has a good work-life balance but still don’t feel well or can’t maintain a healthy ratio of body fat to muscle, the stuff that’s in your personal and home care products could well be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Here are three areas where you might want to have a rethink:
Personal Care Products
Many of us have a love affair with products – our skin, hair and body care products; our bath and shower products; our personal care products; and, of course, our cosmetics. But we aren’t just what we eat, we are what we absorb.
Despite skin being designed to protect us – it’s main job is to act as a barrier – stuff does get through. After all, manufacturers design their products in order that they do enter the layers of the skin and act upon them, otherwise they’d just sit on the surface and would simply wipe off.
One group of chemicals that is getting more and more attention is phthalates. They act as binding agents, solvents, and they help keep plastics flexible. Listed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences as an endocrine disruptor, they are known to interfere with or block the normal actions of hormones in the body and have been linked with breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, reproductive and fertility issues.
They can be used not only as an ingredient in your products but also in the container the product comes in. Phthalates can leach out of the plastic container and into the product that you then rub into your skin, hair or put on your face. Oh, and they don’t have to be included in the ingredients list of your products so you won’t even know they’re there.
I’d recommend using a toxin-free range of skin and personal care products, and avoiding anything with ‘Fragrance’ listed on the label as a good start.
In the late 1930’s, Teflon was invented by scientists at the Du Pont organisation in the US. The first non-stick pan using Teflon was made by a French engineer in 1954 and it has been a regular in most kitchens ever since. Its main attraction, of course, is that food doesn’t stick to it, so it’s easy to clean.
What is less attractive however, is that Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), another man-made substance used in the process of making Teflon has been shown to promote certain types of cancer in humans.
A recent study published in the journal Child Obesity concluded that exposure in the womb to PFOA resulted in an increase in the percentage of body fat of those baby girls later in life. So what a mother uses to cook with could affect the levels of her daughter as she grows.
The authors of a 2016 study state that their results suggest PFOAs are linked with changes to sex hormone levels in children.
Many women struggle with thyroid issues, particularly in perimenopause and menopause. PFOA has been shown to accumulate in thyroid cells and lead to hypothyroidism. This is a down-regulation of thyroid activity that can result in weight gain, low energy, low mood, depression, foggy brain, constipation, sensitivity to cold, heavy periods, muscle weakness, and aches, pain and swelling in the joints.
There’s no perfect solution but my recommendation is to avoid non-stick cookware and use ceramic instead.
Take a look around most kitchens and you’ll likely see food in handy plastic storage containers. Maybe you used half a tin of tuna, and you know that you aren’t supposed to leave food in tins in the fridge so you move what’s left into a plastic tub.
You don’t like using plastic wraps for your cheese because you’ve heard that’s not good so you store your cheddar in another plastic box. What could be wrong with that?
What about that water filter jug? Or the funky water bottle you take to the gym?
We’re back to chemicals used as plasticizers that are found just about everywhere, especially in food storage. One of the main culprits here is Bisphenol-A which is a xenoestrogen; a substance that can mimic the oestrogens we naturally produce in the body, preventing them from working properly and leading to significant hormone imbalance.
Despite the UK Food Standards Agency assertion that “exposure to BPA is not a health concern” the European Commission banned the use of BPA in plastic baby’s bottles in 2010. In the same year, Canada was the first country to declare BPA as a toxic chemical that might have harmful effects on humans and the environment.
BPA and similar substances can leach from plastic containers and into your food, particularly in high fat foods like dairy, and into hot liquids. Studies have suggested a link between BPA and breast cancer, and there is ongoing research into its links to other cancers, endometriosis, and its effects on behaviour and the brain.
Many manufacturers now proudly make food and drink storage products that are BPA-free. But are they safe? It turns out that there is more than one type of bisphenol (BPF, BPS for example) which are used instead, but these can also exhibit oestrogenic activity – which of course leads to hormone disruption and symptoms like weight gain, depression, mood swings, fertility issues and so on.
My recommendation? Use glass storage containers and glass drinking bottles. They may not be as convenient as their plastic alternatives, but I’d choose them every time. They are widely available in good cookware stores and on the internet.
For more info on my Nutrition services, please have a look here.