Are Plastics Really Poisoning Your Body?
What you should know about plastic.
Everywhere you look, you see something made of plastic. But it wasn’t long ago that plastic began to get a bad rap. Drinking out of plastic containers, eating food packaged in plastic, microwaving food in plastic dishes, or heating plastic baby bottles all became another cause for concern. Maybe you were one of those who threw away all your plastic Tupperware, plates, cups, and utensils altogether for fear you were poisoning yourself and your family.
However, a new type of plastic is available that advertises itself as a safe alternative and is deemed BPA (bisphenol A) free. But is this really a safe type of plastic? What about the many other types of plastic that package or touch our food? If you’re one of the millions concerned about the safety of plastic, here’s what you should know.
The Plastic Leak
Teeny tiny amounts of plastic get into your body from the food you eat. When plastic touches your food through preparation, packaging, or contact with dishes or utensils, it leaks out trace amounts. When plastic is heated or comes in contact with salty, fatty, or acidic foods, it releases even more chemicals.
Unfortunately, the health dangers of this leached plastic haven’t been adequately studied. Scientists can’t tell for certain how safe plastic is because it hasn’t been proven completely unsafe. They have determined, however, that two types of plastics known as BPA and phthalates are possibly dangerous. Most food or drink products made with these chemicals should be taken off the market.
Found in water bottles, baby bottles, and the lining of canned goods, BPA seeps into drinks, formula, and canned foods, and then into your body, and finally into your blood. Along with other plastic chemicals, BPA is harmful to your hormone levels—especially estrogen. Under investigation, this chemical may increase your risk for reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, and liver problems.
Limit your exposure to BPA by eating less canned goods and eating more fresh or frozen foods. Also, don’t feed your baby formula packaged cans or from a bottle containing BPA, and don’t drink out of plastic bottles made from polycarbonate. (They’ll be marked with a PC or a 7.) Instead, look for bottles labeled as BPA-free.
Phthalates Aren’t Preferred
Countless consumer products are made of phthalates and many foods are packaged in this type of chemical. (It is often used to cling-wrap deli meats, cheeses, and other foods.) Banned in Europe and nine other nations, phthalates are so common in the U.S. that particles are found in the air we breathe and trickle into the food we eat.
Similar to BPA, phthalates mess with your hormones, but phthalates affect testosterone. High levels of the chemical block testosterone from doing its job, lower sperm count, and cause genital abnormalities. Although officials say levels are too low to cause concern, you can make up your own mind.
The prevalence of phthalates makes it difficult to avoid, but you can limit your exposure by not buying products made of polyvinyl chloride that should be labeled PVC (think of the pipes in your house) or with a 3.
The same harmful chemicals used in certain plastics are also used in nonstick cookware. When these pots and pans are under high heat, they can release toxic chemicals into your food. They can also kill a pet bird.
Keep the following tips in mind to avoid these poisonous chemicals:
- Avoid preheating an empty nonstick pan on high heat. Cook your food at as low a temperature as possible.
- Keep your exhaust fan on over the stove while cooking.
- Use cast iron pots and pans if possible.
- Avoid eating fast food or microwave popcorn.
- Don’t put plastic wrap or plastic containers in the microwave.
- Buy a dishwasher with a stainless steel interior.
- Avoid plastics labeled with the numbers 3 or 7.
- Store food in glass containers.>
- Throw away any scratched plastic containers.
- Wash plastic dishes and utensils by hand.
Many plastics are declared by experts to be safe for your family, but until recently, so were BPA and phthalates.