Women's Health Matters

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It is important to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet, while minimizing your exposure to chemicals added to foods, such as pesticides, artificial flavours, colourings and preservatives.

If possible, eat organic foods. This includes meat and dairy products as well as fruits and vegetables. Organic crops use no chemical pesticides or weed killers, no synthetic fertilizers and no seeds that originate from GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Organic meats contain no antibiotics or growth hormones and come from animals that were given organic feed and provided with adequate moving space, sunlight and fresh air. Processed foods that are marked organic contain no chemical dyes, artificial flavours, synthetic additives or preservatives.

If you cannot find or afford organic foods, try the following:

1. Avoid protein foods most likely to be contaminated (with PCBs, dioxins, mercury), such as organ meats and the following fish:

  • escolar
  • northern pike
  • swordfish
  • halibut
  • orange roughy
  • tilefish
  • king mackerel
  • oysters
  • walleye
  • largemouth bass
  • sea bass
  • white croaker
  • tuna (particularly fresh or frozen and canned albacore)
  • shark
  • marlin
Smaller fish tend to contain lower levels of contaminants.

2. Eat low on the food chain – more fruits, vegetables and grains, and less meat and dairy.

3. Eat lean meat and low-fat dairy products. Pesticides, hormones, drugs and other additives are often concentrated in the fat of animals.

4. Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. The more kinds of food that you eat, the less likely you are to be exposed to any one contaminant.

5. Eat at least five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit daily.

6. Wash all produce well under running water and use a scrub brush when possible. Take extra care when washing fruits and vegetables grown in tropical countries, as they may have higher levels of pesticide residue.

7. Peel fruits and vegetables when possible, for example, squash, carrots, potatoes, bananas, apricots, apples and pears. Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage.

8. Avoid or limit your intake of produce known to be the most heavily sprayed, or produce that doesn't peel well:

  • strawberries
  • green and red peppers
  • spinach
  • cherries
  • cantaloupe
  • peaches
  • celery
  • apples
  • apricots
  • green beans
  • grapes
  • cucumbers

Other considerations:

  • Increase your intake of antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, and some meats and fish). Foods especially rich in antioxidants include dried beans, blueberries, cranberries, broccoli, artichokes, apples, cherries, plums, cooked Russet potatoes, pecans and walnuts.
  • Avoid or minimize your intake of caffeine, alcohol, artificial food colourings and additives.
  • Read the labels on packaged, frozen and canned foods, and choose foods with the fewest additives (for example, artificial colours and flavours, such as MSG; preservatives, such as sulfites, BHA and BHT; and artificial sweeteners).
  • Drink six to eight glasses of filtered or spring water daily.
  • Microwave and store food and water in glass or ceramic containers, not plastic.
  • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian, who can help you eliminate a suspected food (or family of foods) completely for a specified period (usually four to seven days), before reintroducing it, to see if it triggers symptoms. (Important note: This “elimination and re-ingestion test” must not be done if you have ever had any life-threatening reaction to a food.)
  • Take a multivitamin/mineral supplement daily (without iron if you are post-menopausal).
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