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How to Detoxify Your Kitchen

At Life Time, we emphasize the importance of “clean eating,” but it’s ultimately about more than what’s on the menu. Sure, we want to prioritize unprocessed, nutritionally dense food and minimize our exposure to additives, toxins, and pathogens. The eating clean commitment extends beyond the food itself, however. Both where it came from and how we prepare it influence a food’s nutritional profile as well as its toxin content. For instance, we diminish the benefits of purchasing organic, free-range foods if we prepare them in a chemically contaminated kitchen. Let’s take apart the idea of “detoxifying” our kitchen with a focus on the three basics: food, cleaners, and cookware.

Cleaner Foods

Clean Eating involves not only healthy food selection but healthy food sources as well. This includes the feed given to animals, additives used to “beef up the animal” (pun intended), and preservatives used on produce. Oftentimes, farmers opt for cheap feed to create cheap meat. Unfortunately, we still pay a bigger price in long-term health, since the cheaper GMO-based corn and soy feed (or even worse--factory reject candy!) raises our inflammation levels as consumers of meat raised on diets unnatural for grazing animals.

Added antibiotics and growth hormones are often used to respectively fight off pathogens that fester in unhealthy factory farming conditions and fatten up animals more quickly. These substances then become part of our diets, which can exacerbate antibiotic resistance and hormonal imbalance. Even with these measures, however, our meat supply shows rampant contamination. In tests performed by Consumer Reports, 50% of chickens purchased at stores nationwide were infected with bacteria. A whopping 95% of the Campylobacter bacteria and 34% of the Salmonella bacteria were found to be resistant to one or more antibiotics. Although we have the choice to buy cheaper foods, it’s important to also consider the connection more cheaply raised animal products might have to diminished health and higher healthcare costs. 

Let’s now discuss produce. Over 90% of pesticides used today are applying to our food supply.  They kill bugs and enhance crop growth. Yet, these chemicals also exact an additional cost as well. Cynthia Curl of the University of Washington tested the levels of organophosphate pesticide levels in preschool children from the Seattle area and found those who ate conventionally-grown foods had SIX times the pesticide concentrations in their blood than those who ate organically-grown foods. Here are some guidelines for Clean Eating:

  • Choose grass-fed or pastured meat and wild versus farmed fish
  • Select grass-fed, rBGH free dairy products
  • Opt for organically-grown produce, or at least prioritize organic for the most contaminated crops: peaches, strawberries, apples, nectarines, pears, cherries, red raspberries, grapes, spinach, celery, potatoes, green beans, winter squash, sweet bell peppers

“Cleaner” Cleaners

Let’s take a look at the cleaning products used in our kitchens. With cooking, the combination of heat, grease, food, and moisture creates the perfect battleground for germs, but a genuinely “clean” kitchen isn’t the scrupulously disinfected one. In fact, the cleanest appearing kitchens can easily be the most toxic due to the particular cleaning agents used. So, what should we choose? Organic cleaning products are made from natural and/or food grade ingredients compared to conventional products made from petroleum, which is quite toxic. Select biodegradable products without chlorine, chemical antimicrobials, phosphate/phosphorus, dyes, or synthetic fragrances.  Or if you choose to prepare your own to save a few dollars, common food and household items can be used such as distilled white vinegar, salt, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and onion or orange mesh bags.  Here are some cleaning guidelines to get you started:

  • If you prefer to purchase your cleaning products, opt for Castile soap (made from vegetable oil), Murphy’s Oil Soap, Dr. Bronner’s products, Bon Ami cleanser or other brands such as Ecover, Restore, and Seventh Generation.
  • To make your own kitchen cleaner, mix 1 Tbsp dish liquid (one of the brands above) with 1 gallon of water and put into a spray bottle.
  • For cleaning dishes and countertops, use clean, dry dishcloths that can be laundered frequently instead of sponges. Microbiologists frequently find dangerous bacteria on the majority of sponges in household research.
  • If you need more scouring power, cut the label off an onion/orange mesh bag and slip a dry, clean dishcloth inside the bag to simulate a homemade dish scrubber.
  • Use regular soaps instead of antimicrobial products as these have been found to increase the risk of antibiotic resistance in humans. The APUA released a white paper in 2011, stating that bacteria were developing resistance to antimicrobials (including a primary cleaning ingredient, triclosan), threatening human health.
  • For the dishwasher, mix equal parts laundry borax and washing soda.  You can fill the rinse dispenser with white vinegar to reduce the spots and mineral build up on dishes and glasses. 
  • For cleaning floors, fill a bucket with hot water, a cup of distilled white vinegar, and one drop of dish liquid. If you have an ant problem, add a pinch of borax to the mix, which acts as a natural insect repellent.
  • For cleaning produce and meat, all you need is hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Pour consumer strength (3%) hydrogen peroxide into a dark opaque spray bottle and the vinegar in a clear spray bottle. First, spray your produce or meat with the vinegar then with the peroxide. Feel free to use the same spray cycle on your counters (not marble), appliances, or other kitchen surfaces as needed.

Clean Cookware

Finally, let’s discuss cookware. One common kitchen debate is “wood vs. plastic cutting boards.”  Consider wood the winner!  Plastic boards are more likely to encourage bacterial growth. How about pots, pans, bakeware, and storage containers? The least toxic materials are glass, ceramic, and stainless steel. Try to avoid Teflon-coated, aluminum, and plastic. Despite how easy it is to cook with (and clean) Teflon, I’ve given up all of my old Teflon-coated cookware. The Environmental Working Group has shown the toxic chemicals emitted from an overheated Teflon-coated pan can lead to serious health conditions such as cancer, immune suppression, and increased heart disease. A little organic coconut oil or butter will act as a natural nonstick coating.

As for aluminum, it’s a very reactive metal, breaking down with acidic or salty foods. Plastics break down as they get older and are used more frequently, heated, frozen, or scrubbed. One particular formulation, BPA (bisphenol A), is common in plastics and acts as a hormone mimicker, which can increase the risk for infertility, breast or prostate cancer.  Opt for glass storage containers vs. plastic and (if available) purchase foods packed in glass bottles vs. plastic. Finally, stick with the same recommendations for cooking utensils as cookware: stainless steel, wood, glass, or bamboo.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What changes have you made in your kitchen and food prep? What further changes would you like to make? Share your favorite “healthy kitchen” practices as well as questions and thoughts about detoxifying your home.  

Written by Cindi Lockhart - Sr. Program Manager of Health and Nutrition Coaching 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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