Green Living Guide: 7 Ways to Transition to a Non-Toxic Life
Want to move towards green living but don’t know where to start? This approachable Guide to Green Living shares seven steps for transitioning to a non-toxic life based on the book Green Enough by Leah Segedie. The best part is that you don’t have to be perfect; being mindful, proactive and making small changes at a time ensures that you can take charge of your family’s health and home environment, ultimately creating a cleaner, greener and healthier life.
Would you believe that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are more than 85,000 synthetic chemicals in the products we consume and use on a daily basis – from preservatives, flavorings and fragrances to pesticides, plasticizers and flame retardants? Naturally occurring elements like lead, arsenic, and mercury also cause enormous harm.
The vast majority of these substances have not been proven safe for human and environmental health. Basically, we live in a toxic soup, and we still wonder why so many people are sick with terminal illness and chronic disease.
When you first start realizing that the majority of mainstream products in your personal environment contain chemicals – from the food you eat, to your beauty and cleaning products, to the very furniture you sit and sleep on – it’s typically a super overwhelming experience.
Where do you start when you want to detox your life from harmful toxins and embrace greener living?
Fortunately, I have an amazing resource to help you get started: My friend Leah Segedie, Green Living Expert and founder of Mamavation.com, just wrote a book called Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) that will seriously be your new best friend.
This book is the perfect starting point for anyone (beginners and more advanced alike!) who is curious about how to make your home safer, without drastically uprooting life as you know it.
In other words, it’s an approachable and user-friendly guide to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. Often, the fear of not doing it right, not doing enough, or not knowing enough about toxic chemicals paralyzes people who are interested in taking better care of themselves.
Fear no more! Leah heralds that you can be ‘green enough’ — her mantra is that it’s not about not being perfect but being aware, present, and proactive when it comes to your home environment.
Plus, Leah’s writing style is really fun, riveting and utterly hilarious while still being fact-based, packed with straight talk about science and practical tips. Leah feels like a supportive friend who has our backs and knows just what to say to keep us fired up and taking the next steps forward, without putting too much pressure on ourselves to do so.
So take a deep breath, relax and let’s dive into these 7 actionable tips from Green Enough to start making better (but not perfect!) daily choices that will help keep you and your loved ones healthy for years to come.
GREEN LIVING TIP #1: START WITH FOOD
If you thought that the food and products you purchase are independently safety-tested before they hit the shelves, I am sorry to tell you that sadly, you are wrong.
Chemicals that, in many cases, are banned or restricted overseas, end up on our dinner plates and in products inside our homes here in the U.S.A..
ACTION STEP: If you want to clean up the way you feed yourself and your family, start with processed foods, which are almost always laden with chemicals. In Green Enough, Leah walks you through an easy process of how to go through your fridge and pantry to identify what’s processed and what to cut first, as well as how to read the ingredients label to identify what’s safe and what’s not.
She even lists out common brands in different categories like condiments, snacks and bread identifying which ones are bad (avoid), which are better (okay to use sometimes) and which are best (use when possible).
In the book you’ll also learn why it’s important to eat organic when possible, and will get a total lowdown on the sugar pandemic and why it’s so harmful to our health.
PRACTICAL TIP FOR SUCCESS: Fend off the urge to flip out and start pitching a lot of stuff straight in the trash. A much more practical and navigable route is to use up whatever you’ve got in your kitchen and, meanwhile, stock up on various other options so you’re not left scrambling when supplies run out. Remember – slow and steady wins the race!
GREEN LIVING TIP #2: COOKWARE, FOOD + STORAGE CONTAINERS
Food additives that come from packaging are referred to as “indirect food additives” and they are not labeled. Indirect food additives enter your body through the manufacturing, packing, packaging, transporting, holding, or other handling of your food.
There are more than 3,000 substances that are recognized by the FDA as indirect food additives, substances like PFCs, pesticides, BPA, phthalates, mycotoxins, dioxins, PCBs, and melamine are all concerning. These are added chemicals that you will never see on an ingredient list but do exist in cookware, food and storage containers AND can have a cumulative effect on your health.
Studies link food-packaging material to a wide array of human maladies, including ADHD, infertility, weakened immune system, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory disorders, and several types of cancer.
ACTION STEP: Ditch your non-stick cookware laden with toxic Teflon for cast iron or stainless steel pans as an important first priority. Leah also walks you through how to avoid and replace other packaging containers like cans and plastic, as well as safe kitchen gadgets.
GREEN LIVING TIP #3: CLEANER PRODUCE
The crucial shift you are gearing up to make here is toward eating more real food—and that means, first and foremost, fresh produce. The more fruits and veggies your family consumes, generally the healthier you all will be.
The challenge here is that a serious ton of toxic synthetic pesticides are used in conventional agriculture. Pesticides used in agriculture generally fall into five overlapping classes: herbicides (kill plants), insecticides (kill insects), fungicides (kill fungi), fumigants (kill soil organisms), nematicides (kill nematodes).
These chemicals combat rot, pests, fungus, and more, but they also disrupt our endocrine and nervous systems and can cause cancer.
But know this: produce does not have to be risky. You don’t even have to go 100 percent organic to steer clear of a potential chemical cluster bomb on your plate, and more and more studies are proving that even small adjustments to your diet can make a huge difference in the amount of chemicals you consume.
ACTION STEP: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a third party testing organization who annually updates what’s known as The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15. These crucial lists deliver a straight-up rundown of the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce items and will now be your go-to shopping companion.
Not everyone can afford organic food all the time, so this is how you pick your battles. You buy organic when it counts a lot and conventional when it counts much less. This keeps things simple while still doing due diligence to safeguard your health.
PRACTICAL TIP FOR SUCCESS: Because organics are not sprayed with antibacterial chemicals, bacteria can build up on organic fruit and vegetables and cause them to spoil faster. Organic produce can also get contaminated by the chemicals on conventional produce during transport and storage.
Before peeling or trimming, clean produce with a vinegar-water solution to clear off any bacteria, spores, or pesticides. For leafy greens and berries, soak in a mix of one part vinegar to three parts water. For harder produce, such as apples, spray with the same solution and scrub with your hands or a brush. Follow both options with a rinse of cold water.
GREEN LIVING TIP #4: HEALTHIER MEAT & DAIRY
As with processed food and produce, you must be aware of the noxious ingredients in animal products and get smart about how to minimize—as best as you can—your family’s exposure.
The hazards we’re most concerned about avoiding here are antibiotics, growth hormones, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, and dangerous pathogens.
So what meat and dairy should you buy to ensure the health of your family, the animals and the planet? With only a few exceptions, there is no single certification that, on its own, tells you everything you need to know. In Green Enough, Leah shares a guide that simplifies the job of selecting better beef, dairy, poultry, and eggs.
ACTION STEP: Use AmericanGrassfed.org and PCO 100% Grassfed Certification sites, as well as others such as EatWild.com to tap into networks of small, local family farms focused on pasture-raising. Also check out American Grassfed Association Certified ranches listed in your state.
The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Scorecard 125 is super handy for finding the organic brands with the best possible farming practices. For the very best chicken and eggs, find family farms that have pastured birds, either through local farmers markets or resources like EatWild.com, ButcherBox.com (my personal favorite place to order high quality meat – get $10 off + free bacon in your first order using that link!), BuyingPoultry.com (a project of Farm Forward, a nonprofit animal welfare organization.)
You can also talk to your local farmer and visit the farmer’s market to ask them about how they treat their animals.
GREEN LIVING TIP #5: GOOD EATS
In this chapter of Green Enough, Leah teaches us how to get back to basics, simple and streamlined, with real food and delicious eats. The secret to dinner? There are three central components—a ‘nutrition-packed holy trinity’ as she calls it:
Protein + Grain + Dark Green Leafy
Within each of these categories, Leah lays out go-to foods that offer maximum nutrition, deliciousness, and versatility with minimum time and effort. She also provides easy prep and cooking instructions, tons of recipes, along with pointers on everything from making ahead and freezing (instant dinners, here we come!) to boosting flavor and improvising combos.
ACTION STEP: Even small changes in healthy food choices can make a big change in your family’s heath. Try serving new dishes with old favorites, or try to slowly incorporate one new meal a week or one new food item a day. Get your kids involved in choosing the new veggie or legume at the grocery store and helping prepare and cook in the kitchen too!
GREEN LIVING TIP #6: ROOM BY ROOM
Here’s a fact from Green Enough:
Ninety percent of household dust samples from multiple studies of American homes contain 10 harmful chemicals that may be linked to infertility, birth defects, autism, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hormone-related cancers, as well as a flame-retardant (TDCIPP) that is known to cause cancer. One-hundred percent of the dust samples contained large amounts of substances called phthalates, which are believed to interfere with hormones in the body and are linked to declines in IQ and respiratory problems in children, poor sperm quality (among other reproductive problems), and many other health hazards.
ACTION STEP: There are so many ways to reduce the toxic footprint in your home that it can seem a little daunting, so here’s how to get started with three relatively minor measures you can take today that will have major impact on your family’s level of exposure. These three strategies work best together, creating a snowball effect that gains momentum once you get rolling.
Step 1) Ditch disgusting chemicals and go greener with cleaning products, which gives you a head start on the second step which is…
Step 2) Improve air quality (did you know the EPA said that the air pollution inside your home could be 2 – 5 times MORE TOXIC than that of outdoor air?!) by opening windows for ventilation and getting a HEPA air filter, which in turn helps with the next step…
Step 3) Deal with dust through regularly deep cleaning your home and not wearing shoes inside (which brings in pollutants).
GREEN LIVING TIP #7: GREENER GROOMING
Sadly, most shampoo, soap, lotion, and other personal care products we slather all over ourselves and our children on a daily basis contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity, type 2 diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, breast cancer, altered reproductive development, and male genital defects and fertility problems.
These chemicals are called phthalates, and they only rarely are listed on product labels. Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Federal Drug Administration have the authority to properly regulate the industries that produce these products. I
n the United States, companies manufacturing personal care products essentially regulate themselves. WTF?!
ACTION STEP: Switch out one product at a time instead of trying to do it all at once – toiletries are often trial and error for what works for us, and you’ll get frustrated quick if you try a big overhaul. When it comes to finding non-toxic products, check out Madesafe.org, or try your hand at making your own beauty products. One of my other personal favorite companies for safe personal care and cosmetic products is Beautycounter.
That’s a wrap! Thanks again, Leah, for sharing your incredibly helpful and inspiring book with us. Order yours on Amazon here:
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Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.