Chemical stressors surround us. From toxic pesticides in food to harmful chemicals in food cans, soaps, and candles, it's basically impossible to get through a day without experiencing a harmful exposure. The good news is that making smarter personal choices can protect us from many everyday chemicals. And now, researchers believe that adopting certain food habits—and trashing bad ones—can help blunt the blow of pollution present in daily life.
In a commentary published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers cite evidence that eating unhealthy foods makes you more vulnerable to pollution's negative effects. For instance, although polychlorinated biphenyl compounds, or PCBs, are banned from commercial production, the once heavily used substances still persist in the environment. PCBs are particularly nasty once they enter the body, promoting the formation of disease-promoting free radicals and inflammation. This common contaminant also throws off normal cell signaling, a communication error that promotes the growth of dangerous visceral fat that envelops organs. This cell-signaling problem is also implicated in metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common medical condition that bumps up medical costs about $2,000 per person per year in the United States.
To help tame the stress that chemicals cause in our bodies, researchers suggest ditching omega-6–rich processed foods and adding healthy omega-3– and antioxidant-rich foods to your diet. While the damage is most severe in babies still developing in the womb and in young children, cleaning up your diet will help benefit you, no matter what your age.
The Protectors: Eat These 3 Things!Many everyday chemicals throw our bodies out of whack, but foods rich in omega-3s and antioxidants may help jump-start your system, helping to get processes regulated again. Smart omega-3-rich choices include:1. Old-fashioned eggs—Eggs from hens raised out on pasture contain two times more omega-3s than standard store-bought eggs. As an added measure, find a local pasture-based farm that supplements hens with certified-organic feed so you can to avoid genetically engineered ingredients and pesticide residues.2. Walnuts—A quarter-cup of walnuts weighs in at 160 calories and provides nearly all of the omega-3 fatty acids you need in a day. The source is ALA, a precursor to omega-3s that your body turns into the beneficial fat. Flaxseeds are another plant-based option for high omega-3 content.3. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon—Many fish are rich in omega-3s, but many are also also contaminated with mercury and PCBs. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3s, but without high levels of pollution found in other seafood. Avoid farmed salmon altogether—it's full of toxic contamination.
The Disease Promoters: Omega-6–Rich Foods to AvoidWhile we all need omega-6s, the standard American diet that's heavy on the processed foods leads to an unhealthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Foods rich in omega-6 fats help to amplify the inflammation, free-radical production, and cell-signaling chaos caused by the pollution you come into contact with every day. To start cutting back on omega-6s, cut out processed cereal and replace it with organic oatmeal; avoid foods containing corn or safflower oils and replace those with a more neutral oil, such as olive oil; and ditch fast food—it's saturated in obesity- and autoimmune-disease-promoting omega-6s.