With plastics, and the chemicals associated with them, so prevalent in our world, it’s not surprising that much of our food is contaminated by plasticizers (see previous post). So what do you do to reduce these chemicals in your diet?

The best approach is to eliminate all processed food. But that’s not always possible. A better approach is to take a look at your diet to find out where you’re getting the most processed food or ingredients. Focus on those and make are some substitutions to reduce phthalates in your diet without giving up all of the foods you love.

In this post, I’ve come up with several examples of recipe hacks where I’ve replaced the most processed ingredient in the original recipe with a less- or un-processed version. I’ve also flagged other ingredients in the recipes for substitution, because they too may be contaminated by plasticizers or because they contain added ingredients that may also be unhealthy. The three examples are:

  • Cheesy boxes of quick-cook pasta, so popular with kids (and quite a few adults)
  • Pasta salad
  • Smoothies that contain protein powders
Cheese_Powder copy

Cheese powder versus the real deal

The first recipe hack is boxed macaroni and cheese. A recent study (1) showed higher levels of phthalates in the powdered cheese than in real cheese, though they measured some in samples of that as well. It’s not a surprise that food like cheese would have phthalates, since plastic is likely present in milking operations, as well as cheese-making machinery and packaging. But cheese is less processed than the packaged powder in boxed mac and cheese products.

  • Recipe hack for boxed mac and cheese? Make a cheese sauce the old fashioned way by making a roux (oil or butter with flour) then adding cheese that you’ve shredded. Let the sauce cool and pour single servings into a wax-paper-lined cupcake pan (make sure you have enough wax paper to fully wrap the cheese sauce. Freeze. I’ll use a plastic bag or large glass container to store the wax-paper-wrapped sections until you’re ready to make a batch of mac and cheese.
  • Note – this just reduces the phthalates in the cheese product, not the oil, flour, or macaroni.

SaladPicsThe second example of a recipe that I’ve altered is the pre-made greek pasta salad that comes with spinach, feta, onions and one of my favorites, orzo pasta. But the presence of a highly processed pasta wasn’t the healthiest and made me wonder about what else was being introduced to my diet.


  • Instead of processed orzo pasta, use unprocessed wheat berries in the recipe (they take longer to cook – I start them while I’m making breakfast).
  • Add in more unprocessed ingredients like spinach and tomatoes.
  • Replace bottle vinaigrette dressing (which may contain unhealthy ingredients) with a home-made oil and vinegar dressing seasoned with garlic and herbs.
  • Note – feta cheese will likely contain phthalates. You can just leave it out or sprinkle in less.
the whey protein in scoop

(Picture from Ref 2)

Finally, the third recipe hack focuses on protein powders used for smoothies, which are intended to be super healthy but can contain ingredients that are anything but (2) and are heavily processed. I started making green smoothies for breakfast several years ago. For the first several months, I used a commercial protein powder that contained sweeteners and many other ‘interesting’ ingredients. Beyond the fact that it didn’t taste very good, I also cringed a bit as I read the list of ingredients. I decided to seek out a ‘cleaner’ product. I found a pea protein powder that had no other listed ingredients and switched to that. But just as higher levels of phthalates are present in powdered cheese than the real deal, I realized that pea protein powder is far removed from just plain peas. I tried putting peas in the smoothie but they tended to wind up at the bottom in a green sludge. Yuck. It occurred to me that the nut butter and milk that I used in the smoothie might provide enough protein without the processed protein powder and they did. I’ve never looked back.

  • My morning smoothie recipe is now much less processed (for a sweeter smoothie, add half a banana):
  • spinach or other greens
  • blueberries
  • ground flax seeds
  • a tablespoon of nut butter
  • spices (turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger)
  • soy or nut milk.

Bottom line to reduce phthalates in your diet: skip heavily processed powders or ingredients and use as much ‘real’ food as possible.


  1. http://kleanupkraft.org/data-summary.pdf
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-hidden-dangers-of-protein-powders


A Toxic-free New Year

January 1, 2019

14502768_539160869614590_3277597365892536645_nJoin me in 2019 for tips on creating a cleaner diet, free of many of the toxic chemicals that come from the use of pesticides, processing, packaging, and environmental contamination.

There are numerous sources of problematic chemicals in our diets and many ways that they find their way into our food and water. It can be overwhelming to deal with all the possibilities at once. To help with this, I’ll tackle one key issue each month in 2019. I’ll also be providing advice for small steps you can take to clear toxic chemicals from your diet and reduce your body’s toxic burden.

These posts come from a book I’m writing on this subject. Over the last several years, I’ve given presentations on where toxins come from in our diets and what we can do to reduce them. In addition to this blog, join me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DocLaurel) and Twitter (@Laurel_Standley) for more information.

fresh fruits and vegetables

Let’s start the year right by transitioning to or increasing your consumption of organic foods, meaning those grown without pesticides that are used to control weeds and insects. So why eat organic foods rather than conventional? Studies on animals and in people who’ve had higher exposures to some pesticides show links to health issues such as cancer, brain damage, and reproductive impairment. When you decide to ‘go organic’, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing effort – you can do as much or as little in a way that works for you. The best way to get the biggest bang for your buck is to switch to organic for the foods most likely to contain the highest levels of problematic pesticides. Each year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the dirtiest dozen foods, as well as a list of the cleanest fifteen (www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php). So if you can’t afford to go all in for organic foods, use their resource to help you choose which conventional foods to stay away from. And, if you can afford to do so, I highly recommend donating to EWG to help support their work in this important area.

fresh fruits and vegetablesThere are many reasons to follow a vegan, or the newest trend, “seagan” diet, which includes fish. Many studies have shown significantly lower rates of cancer and heart disease in vegans and pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish) than in people eating a meat-based diet. And for vegans, it is a choice to avoid harm to animals by eating only plant-based foods.

There’s another benefit to eating a plant-based diet. Because our environment has become contaminated by decades of industrial production, there are no truly pollutant-free places left on the planet, with some places more contaminated than others. Although both plants and animals are exposed to pollutants such as PCBs, mercury, and dioxins, animals like cattle and chickens accumulate these chemicals at up to a million times higher levels than plants and store them in their fatty tissues. Fish also accumulate pollutants at high levels when they’re reared in contaminated environments.

Consequently in addition to what we’re exposed to in our environments, eating animal products that are high in fats like meat, cheese, and butter greatly increase the transfer of these pollutants into our bodies. This is of concern because these toxins are harmful to our neurological and reproductive health.

tunaSo why would vegans eat fish? Adding seafood to a plant-based diet can help you overcome nutritional deficits like inadequate levels of the brain-healthy omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although plants like walnuts and flax have omega-3 fats, it is primarily alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) instead of EPA and DHA and studies have not shown links between consuming ALA to improved brain health.

If your concern as a vegan is to avoid animal-based products or you want to reduce your exposure to fat-based contaminants, then you can choose to include algal sources of fats in your diet, either through supplements, or eating sea-based veggies like kelp. Because algae are plants, they are often much less contaminated than fish. Just make sure you’re choosing products that have been grown in clean waters.

However, if you want to include fish in your diet, these are the best steps to take to avoid getting a hefty dose of toxic chemicals along with your meal:

  1. Eat lower on the food chain. Small fish like sardines and herring tend to have lower levels of toxins than predator fish and, if you like tuna, go for “canned light” over albacore or ahi, which have higher levels of the neurotoxin mercury.
  2. Choose wild-caught fish from cleaner waters (I recommend checking one of the great fish consumption guides from the Environmental Defense Fund or the Natural Resources Defense Council).

Bottom line: the more organic, unprocessed, and plant-based foods you include in your diet, the lower your risk of disease and exposure to toxic chemicals so prevalent in our environment. And if you add fish to your vegan diet, make sure you use a guide to choose cleaner options to reduce your exposure to pollutants.

September 30, 2016

OUlogo.jpgJoin me for the #OctoberUnprocessed Challenge! Starting tomorrow and for the entire month of October, I’ll be choosing to eat minimally processed, whole foods . And I will be posting at DocLaurel (Facebook) and @Laurel_Standley (Twitter) on ways that eating a less processed diet can reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.

This is the 7th annual Challenge, which is hosted by Andrew Wilder (@EatingRules) on Facebook. To find the group, just search for October Unprocessed and join ~3,000 people participating this year. Even if you are only able to reduce rather than avoid processed foods during the month, you can make a big difference in eliminating unhealthy ingredients from your diet. Learn more about the Challenge at https://eatingrules.com/october-unprocessed/.

Please join the conversation – I’d love to hear your ideas!

Join #OctoberUnprocessed!

September 30, 2014

october-unprocessed-2014During the month of October, I’ll be tweeting (@Laurel_Standley) on the benefits of an unprocessed diet on reducing exposures to toxic chemicals. This was inspired by Andrew Wilder’s annual event called October Unprocessed (follow @eatingrules). I highly recommend visiting his site (https://eatingrules.com/october-unprocessed-2014/) and signing up for the month as a way to reconnect to ‘real’ food and good health. Oh, and to benefit from a reduced exposure to toxic chemicals that are present in packaging and processed foods.

Bon Appetit!



I recently read about studies that show a counterintuitive relationship between consuming higher fat dairy products and reduced body weight (e.g. http://n.pr/1kBi0fZ). I read this with concern because animal fats, such as those in high fat dairy products, are a key source of fat-soluble toxins to our bodies (see http://bit.ly/1hywXix) and it can take many years to clear these toxins from our tissues.

What isn’t clear from these studies is whether there are alternatives to dairy fats or animal fats in general that would achieve the same result. For example, they didn’t assess whether people could replace full fat dairy products with healthy vegetable fats, like those in avocados and nuts, to achieve satiety while avoiding the toxins that bioaccumulate in animal fats.

Vegetarian, especially vegan diets, have been linked to lower diabetes, heart disease, and cancer risks (see http://bit.ly/1mQCGT7). And consuming these foods instead of meat products (including fatty dairy products) definitely reduces your exposure to fat-soluble toxins such as PCBs and dioxins, which are taken up by animals at levels many orders of magnitude higher than plants.



One of these studies on body weight versus dairy fat consumption mentioned the presence of omega-3 fats in organic high fat dairy products as an added health benefit. But there are definitely cleaner sources of these fats. And because most people consume non-organic dairy products, I am concerned about the advice to increase consumption of high-fat dairy since cattle raised conventionally produce lower levels of omega-3 fats in addition to accumulating fat-soluble toxins.

Sometimes what’s best for you in terms of other health indicators may not be best for you with respect to reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals, like the benefits of breast-feeding versus toxins in breast milk and the use of sunscreens with potentially toxic ingredients versus protecting your skin from damaging ultraviolet radiation. In those cases, breast-feeding and reducing exposure to ultraviolet rays make sense, even if they increase exposure to certain toxins.

But in this case, I really would love to see studies compare a vegetarian, low toxin alternative to this association between consumption of dairy fat with lower body weight.

For now, I think the bottom line is to try the vegetarian approach toward achieving a smaller ‘bottom’ to avoid increasing your risk of diseases associated with exposure to toxic contaminants, especially the fat-soluble ones present in high fat dairy products.