1. Choose USDA Certified Organic 
When you buy certified organic, you help reduce the amount of toxic chemicals sprayed on our food and environment. You protect bees and support the humane treatment of animals. You avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and unhealthy, artificial ingredients. Large-scale, conventional farmers rely on farming practices that are unsustainable, degrade soil health and contribute to climate change. Support your local, organic farmer doing it right and buy USDA certified organic. Need help finding an organic farm near you? Click here. Want to learn about regenerative farming practices? Check out this link.

2. Read Labels
There’s no way to know exactly what you’re eating without reading ingredient labels. If you’re not sure what to look for, keep this simple rule in mind: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If enough people stop buying food with unhealthy ingredients, it might encourage food manufacturers to make simpler (and often safer) food.

3. Make Your Own Food
Cooking may take some practice, but it is the best way to know exactly what you’re eating.

4. Give Up or Limit Sugar
Sugar is extremely unhealthy (see links at the end of the story to find out why). It’s also highly addictive, which is why food manufacturers put so much of it in their products. If you can’t give it up completely, try limiting it to just dessert a few nights a week. Read food labels carefully because sugar is found in things you wouldn’t expect like soup, chicken stock, salad dressing, peanut butter, energy bars and prepared food. Whenever possible, use raw honey (click here to find the healthiest) as a natural sweetener and eat fruit because it has antioxidants that help our bodies fight disease. Click here if you need help weaning yourself off sugar.

5. Switch Up Your Exercise Program or Start One
Exercise helps every system in the body, including our brain (read more about it here). It can be as effective as medication for any number of health issues, including depression. A good workout gives us energy, strengthens our body and helps us lose weight. That alone should be reason enough to get off the couch! If you’re already working out, get out of your exercise rut and try something new that challenges your mind as well as your body. A workout doesn’t have to happen in the gym. Try a dance class (the best exercise for brain health), kayak, surf, swim, hike, walk, ride a bike, learn how to play tennis, or try a boxing class. There are tons of workouts online that don’t cost a dime, so no excuses!

6. Eat a Simple Diet
The American diet contains a lot of fat, salt, and sugar and tends to be highly processed and loaded with artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. If you’re looking for a healthier diet, consider the Mediterranean Diet. It has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. Need more help finding a simple diet? Click here.

“The ultimate lifestyle ‘detox’ is not smoking, exercising and enjoying a healthy balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet” – Catherine Collins, an NHS dietitian at St. George’s Hospital, London

7. Get Lab Tests Done
The only way to know what’s going on under our skin is to order lab tests and find out. Why wait until you’re 40, 50 or 60, or have a serious health crisis to get tested? Be proactive. Getting lab results early can help you and your doctor develop simple strategies to optimize your health. You may discover things that are easy to fix like anemia or low vitamin D levels. If you eat a lot of seafood, especially tuna, ask your doctor to check your mercury levels. Here are a few important tests your may want to ask your doctor to order. Click here for a few more.

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8. Drink More Water, but not out of plastic
The kidneys, liver, skin and even lungs detoxify our body. No need for expensive juice cleanses, water flushes toxins out of our vital organs and it’s a lot less expensive.

“There’s is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.” – Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University

Did you know that our blood gets thicker when we’re dehydrated and it makes our heart work harder? Not sure if you’re drinking enough water? Check your pee. If it’s light yellow or clear, you’re drinking enough. If it’s dark yellow, you need to drink more. Always drink water out of glass and ditch those ubiquitous plastic bottles. They contain chemicals that aren’t good for our bodies or the environment.

9. Relax!
Stress is an extremely destructive force on the body. Scientific research has shown that meditation and/or Mindfulness effectively reduces stress and anxiety. According to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center it can also “improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and well-being.” Yoga and Qigong have also been shown to reduce stress.

10. Get Enough ZZZs
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If you get less, you may think you’re functioning well, but according to Matthew Walker, the director of the sleep and neuroimaging lab at the University of California, Berkeley, “You don’t know you are sleep deprived when you’re sleep deprived.” A lack of sleep can make us less productive because our brain’s ability to function declines when we’re tired. Sleep also plays a critical role in cleaning beta-amyloids (a toxic protein that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease) out of the brain. Plus, the body tends to crave more calories when it’s tired and that can lead to weight gain.

11. Stop Using Plastic
About 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans each year. If we keep using plastic at current rates, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

Avoid BPA and BPS
If you buy canned food, make sure it’s not lined with BPA (Bisphenol-A). BPA is a synthetic compound found in plastic. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it can interfere with our bodies ability to regulate hormones.

“The nightmare scenario is that we one day find out that a lot more of our current disorders, including infertility and cancer, may be due to bisphenol A and only show up after cumulative exposure. But by then, we all have accumulated so much exposure that it’s too late to reverse the effects.”- Karin Michels, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard T.H. Chan

BPS (Bisphenol S) or “BPA free” can be just as unhealthy.

“Bisphenol S (BPS), a substitute for the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in the plastic industry, shows the potential for increasing the aggressiveness of breast cancer through its behavior as an endocrine-disrupting chemical.” Science Daily, “Exposure to BPA Substitute, BPS, Multiplies Breast Cancer Cells”

12. Avoid Harmful Chemicals in Personal Care Products and Cosmetics
We’re exposed to over 100 chemicals in our personal care and cosmetics products everyday. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals are extremely unhealthy. Use this guide from the Environmental Working Group to check the toxicity levels of the products you use. If your product isn’t listed, type in the name of the chemical on the ingredient label to find its toxicity level. This “Red List” from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics names the most unhealthy chemicals in your shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, sunscreens, makeup, hair color and skin lighteners. Why buy brands that contain harmful chemicals? Instead, support companies making safer products.

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13. Grow Your Own Food
There are so many reasons to start a garden. You save money on groceries, reduce your environmental impact, promote biodiversity by growing heirloom varieties you won’t get at a traditional grocery store, produce better tasting and more nutritious food, and keep chemicals off your plate!

“Gardening is cheaper than therapy . . .
and, you get tomatoes!” – unknown

Invest in a raised bed or put a pot of herbs on your kitchen windowsill. Strawberries are really easy to grow and taste so much better than the ones they sell at the store. Your kids will love it. Some cities like Los Angeles, will allow you to grow a garden in the parkway (that area between the street your house). So buy some organic soil and heirloom seeds and get started. Seed Savers Exchange is a good resource for heirloom seeds.

BONUS: A few more for the ladies

14. Buy 5-free, 7-free, or 9-Free Nail Polish
Who wants unhealthy chemicals stuck to their nails all day? No thanks! Buy 5, 7, or 9-free nail polish and avoid exposing yourself to some of the most harmful chemicals in nail polish including formaldehyde, triphenyl phosphate (triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and camphor. They can do everything from trigger allergies to disrupt your hormones. A Duke University and EWG (Environmental Working Group) study found that women had high levels of a harmful chemical (TPHP) in their bodies just 10-14 hours after painting their nails. Some of the most popular brands, including OPI, contain these chemicals. Need some help finding 5-free polish? Click here for a few options.

15. Switch to Organic Tampons
Cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop. Many of the tampons on the market are made from rayon or GMO cotton laced with harmful chemical pesticides. A tampon sits in your body for hours, so be safe and opt for tampons made from organic (chemical-free) cotton. Here’s a place to find some.

Learn More
Chris Kresser – “Which Lab Tests are Essential”
New York Times – “If Sugar Is Harmless, Prove It”
Time – “Sugar Is Definitely Toxic, a New Study Says”
NIH Research Matters – “How Sleep Clears the Brain”
Popular Science – How many hours of sleep do you actually need?”
Harvard News – “Plastic: Danger where we least expect it”
World Economic Forum – “The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics”
World Economic Forum – “How much plastic is there in the ocean?
Environmental Working Group – “Duke-EWG Study Finds Toxic Nail Polish Chemical in Women’s Bodies”
The New York Times – “Closest Thing to a Wonder Drug? Try Exercise”
Newswise – “Mindfulness Meditation Training Lowers Biomarkers of Stress Response in Anxiety Disorder”
The Boston Globe – “Mindful movement makes its way into the office”
Curious about some unexpected health effects associated with under eating? Open this link and read more. Chris Kresser – “Are You An Under-Eater? 8 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough”
The Guardian – “You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy?”

Feature image Sandsun@iStock

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