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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Clean Living: What It Means and How to Make It a Reality

Clean living. It sounds simple enough. However, understanding what it means, what it entails, why it matters, and how to engage in clean living is not quite as simple as the name might imply.

It can be challenging to identify a solid definition of clean living, also known as green living because it means different things. For example, some people focus only on the dietary aspect and strive to eat organic and natural foods. For others, clean living encompasses an entire lifestyle that includes everything from diet to household products to reducing their carbon footprint.

The world is full of harmful and toxic chemicals! They can be found in the foods we eat, the ingredients in personal hygiene products, cookware and food storage containers, cleaning products, and even our clothes! Although it’s impossible to eliminate our contact with chemicals, many people have embarked on a clean living lifestyle to improve their health, well-being, and the planet’s future.

What Is Clean Living?

Clean living encompasses multiple aspects of life—sustainability, what we eat, and the beauty and cleaning products we use. Clean living focuses on intentional, healthy choices in diet, lifestyle, and household products. It’s about mindfully choosing the products with the best ingredients to support your healthiest life.

But, it can extend beyond your situation and include consciously making decisions that are best for the environment. Decisions involve eliminating single-use plastic, patronizing businesses that demonstrate a commitment to the environment, holding them accountable, and minimizing waste as much as possible.

The Link Between Clean Living and Health

The health benefits of a clean-living lifestyle offer positive results for everyone, but it can be especially essential to people dealing with chronic health conditions.

The hard truth is that your home may be a source of many potentially harmful chemicals, from the flame retardants in your furniture or carpets to non-stick compounds in your cookware and toxins in the plastic storage containers you use in the kitchen. As a result, that fresh scent that you breathe may include chemicals that are known or suspected to cause serious health issues, including cancer. Some specifically influence your risk of getting breast cancer.

Clean Eating

Clean eating nourishes your body with healthy and nutrient-dense foods that contain vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. Some of the main benefits of eating clean include improved heart and brain health, a more robust immune system, and increased energy levels.

Rather than a specific diet, clean eating is about making deliberate decisions to choose whole foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses (beans, lentils, and peas), dairy, nuts, seeds, and plant proteins—instead of more processed foods. Processed foods can contain many harmful chemicals and toxins, including the pesticides used on traditional fruit and vegetables and in the hormones found in meat, eggs, and dairy.

There are varying degrees of clean eating models. Some clean-eating advocates strive to avoid all traces of added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and other additives. While admirable, it’s a very rigid diet that’s probably too extreme for most people, and attempting to adhere to such a restricted diet will likely make it difficult to maintain.

Clean Environment

You may be shocked to know that scientific research shows that the air inside our homes, workplaces, and other indoor places is often more polluted than the air outside. Many contributing factors lead to this unhealthy atmosphere, but chemicals in cleaners, detergents, air fresheners, and even candles can be the culprits.

Keeping our homes, schools, and workplaces clean is vital to stop the spread of germs, viruses, and bacteria that puts anyone with compromised immune systems, including cancer patients, at risk of serious illness. Unfortunately, many household and cleaning products often include harmful chemicals. Even so-called “green” or “natural” products may contain ingredients that can cause health problems.

The good news is that you can limit your exposure to these potentially damaging elements, but it requires closely monitoring the ingredients. However, because federal and state laws don’t require companies to list the ingredients in cleaning products, it’s challenging to determine whether a product contains chemicals linked to cancer or other chronic health conditions.

Many cleaning products contain industrial chemicals with ingredients linked to breast cancer. In addition, several ingredients used in cleaning products may include, or be contaminated with, chemicals linked to breast cancer.

Clean Personal Hygiene

Many grooming and beauty products—shampoos and hair care products, shower gel, face creams, and makeup—contain Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which can affect your hormone system. They’re used to prolong shelf life and fragrance solvents.

While many chemicals and contaminants in cosmetics and personal care products pose little risk, exposure to some has been linked to severe health problems, including cancer. In fact, since 2009, nearly 600 cosmetics manufacturers have reported using 88 chemicals in multiple products that have been linked to cancer, congenital disabilities, or reproductive harm.

How to Get Started with Clean Living

​​Transitioning to a clean-living lifestyle is a process that takes time and patience. While you could make a sweeping change to modify your entire lifestyle, that’s not attainable for most people. Instead, try making one change at a time, learn as you go, and build on your successes.

To begin, prioritize what’s most important to you and start there. For example, is your diet your biggest concern? Are your cleaning products making you sick? Or, maybe your skin is in breakouts from using personal care products. Take small steps to tackle the things that make the most sense to you.

The first step is developing a skill to learn to read and understand labels. Warning: the ingredients you find on labels will probably shock you. If you don’t know what the chemicals and other ingredients are (and most of us don’t), look them up at Environmental Working Group (EWG) or ThinkDirty to learn more.

5 Simple Clean Living Tips

Clean Eating

While there are several definitions for clean eating, most people agree that clean eating consists of eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods when possible. Rather than trying to revamp your eating habits and meal plans overnight, you can begin by working toward the goal of including more of these types of foods more often. These tips can help you get started:

  • Avoid processed foods and artificial ingredients as much as possible

  • Incorporate more whole fruits and vegetables into every meal

  • Buy organic food whenever possible

  • Avoid highly processed foods with long lists of ingredients. If purchasing packaged foods, choose items that have five ingredients or less. Plus, make sure the ingredients are ones that you recognize and can pronounce

Choose Safe Cookware

It’s counterproductive to embark on a clean eating program if your cookware isn’t safe. Non-stick cookware, such as Teflon, promised convenience and the ability to save us time and money, but included harmful chemicals. So instead, cook with any of the following safe cookware options.

  • Cast iron cookware

  • Ceramic cookware

  • Stoneware

  • Corningware and glass cookware

  • Stainless steel cookware

Avoid Plastic Food Storage & Food in Tin Cans

Don’t defeat the positives clean eating offers by making food storage choices that could unravel the benefits. For example, most people are aware of the dangers of BPA (bisphenol A) and how its hormone-disrupting chemicals can mimic estrogen in the body, potentially affecting brain development, disrupting hormones, and negatively impacting fertility.

To start, avoid any plastic containers and food that comes in tin cans containing BPA. Unfortunately, research has shown that BPA alternatives can be just as harmful or even worse for your health! It’s especially important never to microwave food in plastic containers since heating plastic expedites the release of these chemicals.

You can ease into this change by starting with one swap, such as replacing plastic food storage containers with glass alternatives.

Swap Household Cleaners

Another way to avoid harmful ingredients is to swap out commercial household cleaners for more natural and eco-friendly options. Amazingly, there are no government regulations in the US that require companies to disclose their complete ingredient list due to proprietary trade secrets. But there are ways to avoid bringing toxic chemicals into your home.

  • Switch to microfiber for an easy, safe and non-toxic way to clean your home without any chemicals at all—just water! You can save time and money while also cutting down on waste since microfiber cloths last for years and replace cleaning solutions and paper towels.

  • ​​Make your natural cleaning solutions for more stubborn stains and situations. One effective and safe option is to use vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, fragrance-free liquid soap. In addition to eliminating harsh chemicals, DIY cleaning products can be a big money saver.

Review Personal Care Products

According to the EWG, “the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every day”. Our skin is our largest organ, and the products we use on our skin can be absorbed into our bloodstream. Therefore, the risk of health harm is greater when you use more products.

  • The first step you can take is to reduce the number of products you put on your body—makeup, body lotion, soap, body wash, and shower gel.

  • Avoid ALL products with fragrance, which is a blend of ingredients that can contain up to 4,000 undisclosed ingredients, including harmful toxins such as phthalates. In addition, many of the chemicals used to make fragrances can cause endocrine disruption, asthma, and even cancer and should be avoided altogether.

  • Consult Beautycounter’s Never List, which includes more than 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals that they never use as ingredients in their products, including banned or restricted chemicals by the European Union.

Count on us to keep you informed as science uncovers information on how clean living can help you be as healthy as possible. In the meantime, explore our guidelines for a healthy diet, and become part of our empowering community, including our Breast Cancer Survivor & Friends Meet and Greets.

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