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Health February 2015

Rainbow Kitchen

Think Outside the Can...Or Plastic Bag...Or Styrofoam Tray...

By Allison St. Claire

BPA basically tricks your fat cells into taking in more fat – and can also trick your pancreas into producing more insulin than necessary, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. A women's lifetime risk of breast cancer is directly linked to her lifetime exposure to estrogen – both natural and synthetic.

It’s that time of year when our fruit bowls and refrigerator drawers that overflow with fresh and nutritious goodies in the growing season are looking pretty skimpy and lonely right now. So we tend to head to the cupboards at meal time.

Go take a census there now. How many cans of food do you have versus bottles? How many pre-made mixes instead of staples like flour and sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, pepper and individual spices? Dried beans and legumes versus processed canned ones?

Alas, there’s more than just food in many of those cans. In the nutrition camp, I was appalled to open a can of kidney beans recently without having read the ingredients label. They had added sugar. The fancy, multi-colored label on the front didn’t indicate anything but beans inside. I wanted beans. I expected beans. I didn’t want any extra sugar. But there it was.

But I harp on non-nutritional ingredients all the time. Let’s look today at what else may be lurking in that can or plastic bottle besides food or drink – there’s also likely to be bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA. It’s been in the news a lot the past few years as knowledgeable consumers are demanding its removal, or are switching to glass and BPA-free cans and bottles.

It’s been known for a long time that hormone-mimicking chemicals wreak havoc on development and cause cancer. BPA has always known to be estrogenic. In fact, it was originally synthesized in 1936 as an estrogen replacement therapy, but since the 1940s it has been used primarily as a hardening agent in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate plastic may be clear or colored and typically marked with a number 7 on the bottom.

BPA can be found in the epoxy resin coating in the interior of modern metal food and aluminum soda cans, and in many other products, including the large polycarbonate water bottles that many water services deliver to homes and offices. More than 90 percent of Americans have detectable BPA in their urine. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association has found that high levels of urinary BPA are associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity. According to the study, BPA basically tricks your fat cells into taking in more fat – and can also trick your pancreas into producing more insulin than necessary, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. A women's lifetime risk of breast cancer is directly linked to her lifetime exposure to estrogen – both natural and synthetic.

Containers with BPA should never be microwaved, used to store heated liquids or foods, or washed in hot water (either by hand or in much hotter dishwashers). Ditto those ubiquitous polystyrene containers (erroneously often called “styrofoam,” which is building insulation). The jury is still out as to how much styrene migrates into our bodies, but it is definitely not food that mother earth can absorb or recognize as compostable; wildlife has died off by the thousands from ingesting or getting trapped in the tons of plastic we humans thoughtlessly toss away.

 

Some Easy Suggestions

  • Polycarbonate plastics may be durable, but they can break down at high temperatures, increasing the possibility of BPA leaching into food. Instead, use glass or ceramic dishes for microwaving food.
  • As a general rule, try to store food in glass containers. If you use plastic food containers to store food, avoid using them for acidic foods.
  • Wash plastic containers by hand in warm, soapy water. High temperatures in dishwashers can also cause plastics to break down.
  • For portable water bottles, opt for BPA-free stainless steel, though most new recyclable plastic water bottles do not contain BPA. Plastic bottles that contain BPA are usually marked with a No. 7 recycling code on the bottom.
  • Avoid using old and scratched plastic food containers and bottles.

And finally, returning to the nutrition camp, see how many of those pre-made mixes and processed foods you could easily make yourself from the basic ingredients you already have on hand. They’re bound to be much better for you (no added chemicals, artificial flavorings, incomprehensible additives, etc.), and definitely much cheaper!
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Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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