Does “Going Green” Make You Healthier?

Does “going green” make you healthier? I believe it helps to frame this issue if we picture our bodies as a bulls-eye target for many poison-tipped arrows: we are exposed to dangerous levels of toxins via the air, and also via many foods and drinks we ingest. So, individual efforts to live a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle can directly benefit your body as well as your community.

Let’s first look at air pollution and efforts to clean the air. Air pollution worldwide is a major contributor to heart and lung disease, both short-term and long-term. All of our efforts for carbon reduction and pollution control will help the earth’s ecology directly, but they also directly improve our individual health when we breathe in cleaner air. One step you can consider is to switch to bicycling instead of cars for a commute. Your lifetime health benefits from this exercise are much greater than the risks from city pollution and accidents — this is supported in a very encouraging new study.

There are some easy, earth-friendly ways to improve your indoor air, and which literally are green: a trio of plants which help to scrub the air clean. The Areca Palm (风尾竹, fèngwěizhú) is good for creating oxygen; the snake plant (虎皮兰, hǔpílán) is good for bedrooms; and the money plant(绿萝, lǜluó)helps remove gaseous chemicals such as formaldehyde from the air. These plants are very common in China and are inexpensive, and they look great in any office, bedroom or school. These three plants are particularly effective for air pollution, but all indoor plants can create oxygen and filter your air.

Let’s move on to organic foods and your health. I’m a strong advocate of eating organic food as often as possible in China, as you get total control over which toxins you put in your body. China’s food supply has had numerous issues with food safety, many involving toxic levels of chemicals which could harm you. Organic production specifically avoids using the pesticides and growth chemicals that have despoiled countless acres of farmland and water supplies worldwide. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, have major problems worldwide from chemical use, and their organic versions should be bought as often as possible. For example, peaches and apples top the pesticide list for fruits, and peppers and celery lead the vegetable rankings. You can access the full list from the Environmental Working Group; they have a Shoppers Guide to Pesticides which you can download from their website at They also offer a very useful free iPhone/iPod Touch application called Dirty Produce, which ranks all produce by pesticide levels. I find this iPhone app very useful while shopping for groceries, as it helps me decide whether a certain vegetable should always be bought organic or could I get away with the regular version.

Beijingers are fortunate that the market for organic food is growing rapidly — just this month I found new, locally made organic blueberries at most markets for only 15 RMB each box. Beijingers are also lucky that many farms, stores and markets are expanding their organic selections. You can find scattered organic farms around Beijing where you can order directly and even visit. The larger supermarket chains are also rapidly improving their selection of organic produce as well as meat. I now buy my organics almost exclusively from the large joint-venture hypermarkets such as Carrefour and Walmart and am happy with the quality and price.

By the way, readers should take note that organic food has many positives — but in general, most studies do not show a clear nutritional advantage with organics. So, an organic carrot may taste better but has the same vitamins and minerals as a non-organic carrot. This may surprise and disappoint some readers, but you still have strong reasons to choose organic food here in Beijing — of which the #1 reason is to protect your health.


(This article was originally printed in Beijing Kids magazine, where I am a contributing editor. You can click here to read the rest of my BeijingKids “The Doc Is In” columns.)

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3 thoughts on “Does “Going Green” Make You Healthier?”

  1. i often see the little, round "organic" sticker tagged onto produce in my local supermarkets, mainly ito yokado. sometimes, it feels like they have just slapped them onto conventional products and upped the price. i'm probably paranoid, but then again, this is china. any thoughts on "fake" organics or the possibility of it becoming a big trend?

    1. I have heard some occasional reports about organics, but that’s why it’s best to stick with the largest supermarkets, as one would have to assume/trust that they’re keeping on top of things as well as anyone can.

  2. I avoid toxins as much as possible, too. Safe soaps, shampoos and deodorants are the rule here. No air fresheners. Natural washing powder (baking soda bubbled with hot water to make washing soda). That also means no artificial sweetners or colors in foods or medicines, except when absolutely necessary. And certainly no medicines while I'm healthy, such as in the form of vaccines. Read those package inserts. They're chock full of toxins and dangerous stuff. And what we don't see is the viral contaminants and, if it's grown on human substrate, the bits of viral DNA which are lurking…doing God knows what.

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