Which Is Safer: Breathing Air, Drinking Water or Eating Food?

I have often wondered which environmental exposure we are greatest affected by? Is it the air? The water? Our food? How do we know? While we know the conventional foods to avoid and the chemicals in body care products that are the causing the greatest harm, which one is producing the greatest impact to our physical health is difficult to pinpoint. We obviously need all three of these to survive. So, the question is somewhat silly.

According to Joe Pizzorno, ND, founder of Bastyr University and author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (and, my personal hero), his best estimates and research says that our exposures rank close to these numbers:

Sources of toxins

  • 60% from food
  • 10% from water
  • 10% from house and yard chemicals
  • 5% from air

By now, you know me…bad news then good news.

The bad news is that food is the one factor that is affecting our health the most significantly, and we have to eat it multiple times per day. We can’t just go on a permanent food fast. The good news is that we are in more control of our food consumption than either air pollution or water pollution. Ever the optimist!

We know that the persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) and pesticides in foods are causing us harm on every level. We know the fifteen foods that are safe to eat if they are not organic. We also know which of the 12 fruits and veggies that must be avoided if they are not organic because they carry far too many chemicals to warrant their consumption. Check out the EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen lists that can be downloaded on your phone for your shopping trips. I also included the lists at the bottom of this post.* 

Water safety is also something we should have in our awareness. Municipal water companies only have to filter out particulate matter (solids that float around in the water), lead, mercury, arsenic, and other toxic metals. It is estimated that arsenic taints 10% of all public water supplies. In areas that burn coal for energy, the water will also have higher than normal levels of mercury. Conventional farming practices cause herbicides and pesticides to leach into water supplies. There are two companies that can help you test your water supply so you know what is in it. If you have a well, Doctor’s Data will test for metals and Great Plains Laboratory will test for chemicals. Cities must monitor and analyze what is in your water, including heavy metals, and you can request a list of what is in your local tap water.

Chemicals used in your yard become your and all of your neighbors problem, as water doesn’t just stay in one place. Chemicals used to kill weeds or pests get absorbed into the ground, leach into underground aquifers, and then become part of what is in your well. It will also drain down the sewers and into the municipal water supply. Typically, these chemicals are not identified as needing to be treated and will remain in our city water. Chemicals for weed control are actually creating resistant weeds. So, we will eventually need a bigger chemical cocktail to kill a weed.

An easier and safer solution: hand weed, knowing you are doing something tremendous for your planet and children’s children and their children, too. I know, who likes weeding? But, think beyond the little section of annoying weeds in your driveway cracks to the health of our environment.

Perhaps this research will help you make decisions at the store, and hopefully, it will help you spark a discussion with a family member, if you are the only one seemingly concerned about what is in our food and water. The more careful we are about avoiding pesticides and other chemicals from our food supply, the more we benefit in terms of our prevention of chronic disease and the more vibrant and vital we can be as a human race and a planet.

*Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet Bell Peppers
  12. Potatoes

Clean Fifteen

  1. Sweet Corn (buy organic if you want to avoid GMO’s)
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas (buy organic if you want to avoid GMO’s)
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangos
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit

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