12 Simple Steps You Can Take to Green Your Home Today
"Going green" can seem like an insurmountable task with the conflicting information we are bombarded with on a daily basis and the plethora of food, beauty, and household products at our fingertips. Luckily, Leah Segedie, creator of Mamavation and author of the new book Green Enough, let POPSUGAR in on a few of her favorite green living tips.
Leah's book is full of her signature sass and lots of practical suggestions, but it also explains the science behind her recommendations and is backed up by a pretty thorough reference section. She shared with us 12 steps you can take today to up your green game — no farming or chicken coops required.
Eat Organic as Often as Possible
True, organic produce can sometimes be more expensive than conventionally grown fruits and veggies, but, according to Leah, "Studies show that eating organic dramatically cuts down on the amount of toxic persistent pesticides inside your body," and some of these pesticides "have been linked to hormone disruption, cancers, and other medical problems."
Hold up right there — fruits and veggies are supposed to be making us healthier, not sicker! You can say "no thanks" to the dangerous chemicals by purchasing organic whenever possible.
If it's not in your budget to buy all organic, check out the current "Dirty Dozen" list from the Environmental Working Group to take a peek at the produce with the highest levels of pesticide residues. At the very least, purchase organic varieties of those fruits and veggies (or avoid them altogether).
Avoid Artificial Colors
The US seems to be a bit behind the times when it comes to artificial colors. Several European countries have already banned these artificial dyes, and others slap a warning label on packages containing them (while the US is bringing back artificial dyes due to popular demand). Why? Leah told POPSUGAR this is because artificial dyes "have been linked to hyperactivity in children, ADHD, and certain cancers, and some can even cross over the blood-brain barrier."
To easily avoid these dangerous dyes, if you see a color with a number next to it (like "Green 3" or "Yellow 5") or the words "artificial color" on an ingredient label, put that item back on the grocery shelf and quietly back away.
Reduce Sugar Consumption
We all know too much sugar is bad news, and Leah let us in on a little secret: "Sugar can hide as over 50 different ingredients, so it is best to just choose products that have less total sugar."
Switching to foods with fewer added sugars will help you to steer clear of the dangers of overconsumption of sugar, like increased risk of mood and behavioral disorders, damage to the reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers.
She recommends women limit their intake to 25 grams of added sugar per day, men stick to 38 grams or less, and children limit their intake to 13 grams per day. Try these Paleo-friendly breakfast recipes to help break you out of your sugar rut.
Toss the Nonstick Pans
Teflon cookware used to be the gold standard for nonstick pans, but they most likely belong in the trash. "The fluorinated chemicals on traditional nonstick pans can easily leach into your food when they come into contact with heat, fat, and acids (like those in tomatoes or citrus). They are linked to thyroid damage, miscarriages, weight gain, cancers, and immune system damage," Leah shared.
It may not be in your budget to toss your pans and buy a whole new set today, but you can slowly phase them out (especially any that are scratched or worn down) for better options like glass, cast iron, and stainless steel.
Stop Reusing Single-Use Plastics
Remember when you thought you were "going green" by refilling your water bottle over and over again instead of tossing it after one use? Your heart was certainly in the right place, but disposable plastic is disposable for a reason.
"Packaging ingredients are categorized as 'indirect additives' because they indirectly leach into your food. Because of this, they technically become an ingredient in your food, but brands don't have to tell you about them," Leah warned.
She went on to say, "Disposable plastic containers (like water bottles and takeout packaging) break down very quickly and can start to leach dangerous additives into your food or water." Instead of the 12-pack of disposable water bottles, pick up a reusable one (it's OK if you only get it because it's super cute, too).
Stop Microwaving Plastic Containers
Just as single-use plastics can easily leach dangerous, hormone-disrupting chemicals into your food, heating plastics in the microwave can have the same effect. If possible, replace your plastic food storage containers with glass; if it's not in your budget, Leah advises that you "stop heating plastic containers in the microwave or covering your food with saran wrap before microwaving. Instead, microwave your food using glass or ceramic."
Switch to Safer Cleaning Products
We've all heard the concerns about outdoor air quality, but the "air quality inside your home can be anywhere from two to 10 times more polluted than the air outside," Leah shared. Pretty shocking stuff, but it gets worse: "Part of that contamination comes from the cleaning products we use inside our homes."
Certain cleaners (you know, the ones with the big, scary warning labels on the back) "contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and, when mixed with ozone inside your home, can produce smog." Toss these ASAP. If you are ready to make the switch, but you are on a budget, you can even make them yourself!
Take Off Your Shoes When You Come Inside
Your shoes step on a lot of things each day that you would probably never put into your mouth. Leah cheekily asked, "Would you lick the asphalt? Because that is essentially what your shoes do every day."
Our shoes come into contact with asphalt, dirt that has been exposed to industrial chemicals and pesticides, and who knows what else. As soon as we step into our homes, we track whatever is on the bottom of our shoes all over our carpet and floors.
This one is so simple — take off your shoes as soon as you step in the front door and you have an easy (and free) way to cut down on the contaminants inside your home.
Open Your Windows (and Get a Few Plants)
Speaking of air quality, Leah has another quick tip for improving the air inside your home — open your windows. "Opening your windows allows cleaner, fresher air to come inside and start breaking down contaminants," she added.
If you have a green thumb (and even if you don't), indoor plants can also move your air quality in the right direction because they can help to detox the air in your home from things like formaldehyde that may be off-gassing from your furniture. Who knew?
Eat Less Factory-Farmed Meat
Food quality concerns are not limited strictly to produce. "According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), conventional meat production, which regularly uses antibiotics, is contributing to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria," Leah shared.
Basically, if you eat meat from these animals and it makes you sick, antibiotics may not be able to treat you. This isn't a "what if" problem; millions of people are infected each year in the US, and about 23,000 die due to complications.
According to Leah, "Because organic and grass-fed meats have lower cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, focusing on these would be a good solution. If you are on a budget, however, focus on more plant-based meals."
Cook at Home More Often
"When you cook at home," Leah noted, "not only do you control the ingredients (which means you can use more healthy, whole foods), but you also decrease the amount of phthalates you consume daily." Phthalates are nasty, hormone-disrupting chemicals inside plastics and fragrances that have been linked to degraded sperm, infertility, behavior problems in children, obesity, and certain cancers.
Leah added, "These contaminants typically get inside your food from packaging, handling, and processing, which is more common in restaurants. If you prepare most of your meals at home from whole foods, you are way ahead of the game."
Simplify Your Skincare Routine
The US has some catching up to do when it comes to health regulations — approximately 1,328 ingredients have been banned or restricted in the European cosmetic industry, but only 30 have been banned in cosmetics here in the US. Not only that, but cosmetic brands do not need FDA approval before introducing new chemicals into the marketplace.
In the face of so little regulation, what can you do to ensure you are slathering on safer skincare products? "Avoid any brand that has the word 'fragrance' as an ingredient and that will weed out about 85 percent of the bad guys. If you want to take it a step further, search for brands that are 100 percent transparent about their ingredients and where they come from," Leah recommended. A natural beauty such as yourself deserves natural beauty products.