You are what you eat. But does this saying take on new meaning when toxins might be creeping into your food?
THE EFFECTS OF BPA
One commonly overlooked element of healthful eating is the container you cook and store your meals and drinks in. With heat, the hazardous chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can leech from everyday cookware, storage bottles, or even consumer products into your food. Exposure to BPA, an industrial chemical developed in the 1960s to make plastics and resins, raises concern because it’s thought to upset the brain, behavior, and hormone activity of growing fetuses, children, and developing teens.
Though the FDA has said that very low levels of BPA are not harmful, this chemical nevertheless plays a significant role in the health of your family. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is naturally higher in women, but as with most things in life, balance is essential.
BPA will bind the receptor sites of estrogen strongly and make it difficult for natural estrogen to bind appropriately. This imbalance can affect one’s ability to maintain a lean body mass and lead to other more chronic diseases.
Parents I speak with are rightfully shocked when their second grader comes home to tell them a classmate is developing breasts. Women are concerned about estrogen-sensitive cancers like breast cancer. And men are not immune; they are equally affected by the increase in hormone-altering chemicals.
Men typically have a higher concentration of testosterone, which will naturally lower when estrogen mimickers are elevated because hormones are constantly trying to maintain balance. This can affect mood, behavior, body composition, and risk of disease.
Other health issues linked with such chemical hormone disruptors include:
- Food sensitivities
- Autoimmune disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Premenstrual symptoms: enlarged, tender breasts; low mood; irritability; bloating; cramps; headaches
- Ovarian cysts
- Heart disease
- Insulin resistance
- And more …
As for heart disease and diabetes, a Journal of the American Medical Association study found those with the top 25 percent of BPA concentrations were three times more likely to develop heart disease and 2.4 times more likely to have diabetes.
WHERE DO WE FIND BPA?
- Plastic containers and water bottles
- Blenders and food processors
- Baby bottles
- Nonstick pots
- Aluminum pots
- Can lining for foods and beverages
- Packaged food
- Dental sealants
- Pizza boxes
- Toilet paper
- Receipts — yes, that piece of paper at the checkout!
- Wine — some wineries use plastic vats for fermentation
- Soft plastic toys
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE EXPOSURE?
It is almost impossible to completely avoid exposure, but you can take steps to reduce it.
Use BPA-free containers: To be safe, the best option is to use glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers for water, hot foods, and leftovers whenever possible.
Microwaving plastics or putting them in the dishwasher causes them to breakdown and leach the chemical.
Worse, many plastic products labeled as BPA-free actually contain its equally hazardous cousin, Bisphenol S.
Finally, consider cutting back on canned foods because many are lined with BPA. When possible, buy products in BPA-free cans.
Great glass and stainless steel products for storing food, packing lunches, and for beverages can be found on these websites: lunchbots.com, planetbox.com, pyrex.com, kleankanteen.com, and lifefactory.com.
Toss the Teflon: Pots can be expensive to completely toss and replace, so it’s easier to replace one piece at a time, but be sure you choose the right product quality.
Stainless steel is a combination of metals beyond carbon steel, so avoid products with dangerous heavy metals as fillers. Be sure the product is resistant to corrosion and leaching or reactivity. Good quality products will be low in nickel. To be safe, avoid long-term cooking and storage of acidic foods in stainless steel because acids can react with the metal and cause it to leach.
Cast iron has been used for centuries. When well-seasoned cast-iron cookware has a coating of fat, which not only turns it into a nice nonstick surface, it also acts as a barrier between the iron and your food.
Enamel-coated cast-iron or steel is naturally nonstick and nonporous. High-quality enamel coating is nonreactive and safe for all types of cooking. Lesser-quality enamel may contain lead, or may chip, allowing unsafe material underneath the coating to leach into food. A great brand for both cast iron and enamel coated cast iron is Le Cruset.