When many of us were growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, our parents taught us about dangers of smoking, the importance of exercise (Jane Fonda, anyone?), and pressing environmental issues like acid rain and pollution.
With our parents’ guidance, we learned valuable lessons about protecting our health and doing our part to preserve the Earth’s natural sources. But there were also things that were impossible for our parents to know back then. Two decades ago, phthalates, parabens, and Bisphenol A (BPA) were not part of the public lexicon. Now that we have more information, it’s our turn to teach our children the wisdom our parents shared and what we’ve also learned along the way. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot heading into Mother’s Day. Now that I’m a mom, what are things I want my kids to know that my mother did not teach me?
Here are four topics our parents wish they had known about when we were kids.
Certain processed foods can contain many harmful substances, including pesticides, additives, food dyes, and preservatives. Some studies have shown a link between these ingredients and cancer, obesity, and other health problems. Everything from refined grains and trans fats to artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup are commonly found in foods. In a study published in the journal BMJ Open, scientists led by Carlos Monteiro at University of Sao Paolo found that nearly 60% of an American’s daily calories come from "ultraprocessed" food. Monteiro and his colleagues defined “ultraprocessed” as food that contains flavors, colors, sweeteners and hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers and other additives. The study also pinpointed, for the first time, this type of processed food as the main source of added sugar in the U.S. diet, according to Time.com.
Tip for today: When at the grocery store, shop the perimeter for fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish. Choose fresh, local or organic food over frozen, canned or processed foods. Seventh Generation’s partner, Women’s Voices for the Earth, suggests checking out Silent Spring’s 6 simple steps for avoiding phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA)
in food. The American Cancer Society recommends reading food labels, limiting your intake of red meat, and choosing whole grains over refined carbohydrate foods such as pastries, candy, sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, and other high-sugar foods.
Cosmetics, Perfumes, and Personal Care Products
It turns out that some shampoos, perfumes, makeup, hairspray and other personal care products may include phthalates and parabens. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. Parabens are a group of compounds commonly used to prevent the growth of yeasts, molds, and bacteria in cosmetics and personal care products. These ingredients may be linked to cancer and hormonal disruption, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Tip for today: Choose paraben-free products . The best way to do this is to read all personal care label. Avoid products with ingredients that end in “-paraben.” Another helpful tip when it comes to reading personal care labels is to look for products that voluntarily disclose their fragrance ingredients. Companies are not required to disclose their fragrance ingredients on product labels.
Do you know what’s in your cleaning products? Companies producing household cleaning products are not legally required to print a list of ingredients on their packaging. Manufacturers have been able to avoid revealing cleaning product ingredients under the guise of protecting trade secrets.
Many cleaning products also don’t disclose what’s in their “fragrances.” Synthetic fragrances may include phthalates – which some studies have linked to infertility and gestational diabetes, according to Women’s Voices for the Earth.
Tip for today’s woman: Look for cleaning products that disclose their ingredients, including fragrance ingredients, right on their product labels. Look for companies that have committed to not using phthalates in their fragrances.
In the movie “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire tells the film’s protagonist, Benjamin Braddock: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics.”
Maybe plastics were the wave of the future in 1967, but we know better in 2017. The bottom line is that convenient plastic products can be harmful to your health. Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates are used in making countless plastic products, including baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, and teethers. BPA can leach from plastic containers into foods and beverages, and animal studies have shown that exposure to BPA can have developmental effects. Meanwhile, animal studies have associated phthalate exposure with adverse effects on the liver, kidney, and male and female reproductive system, especially when exposures occur to the developing organism.
Tip for today: Use refillable glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers for food and beverages, particularly for hot foods and liquids. Glass baby bottles are recommended for babies who don't yet feed themselves. Avoid plastics with the numbers #3 or #7 and as much as you can. Don’t use products made out of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, and switch your vinyl shower curtain to fabric one.
Knowledge is power. Pass it on.