There have been rumblings of concern for a while now about the safety of plastics and food chemicals and many consumers would have no doubt noticed the trend towards “Bisphenol A (BPA)” free plastic products.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recently released their “Food Additives and Child Health” Policy Statement, which for the first time makes recommendations about how we store and chose food products that we feed our family.
The AAP have classed food chemicals of concern as those either added directly to our food supply (specifically the preservatives nitrates/nitrites and some food colourings) or those which enter our food via indirect contact from packaging or the processing of food (BPA, phthalates, perfluroalkyls (PFCs), and perchlorates).
BPA (used to stiffen and harden plastic products) and phthalates (used in soft plastic products such as clear plastic food wrap) can both potentially interfere with the metabolism of carbohydrate and fat and have anti-androgenic effects. There is therefore concern that both chemicals could have a role to play in obesity as well as reproductive development. PFCS and perchlorates can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, and nitrate and nitrate preservatives have been linked to the production of cancer causing compounds. Some artificial food colourings have been linked to hyperactive and aggressive behaviour.
It’s important to note that much of the studies done to date are animal based studies or epidemiological studies which don’t necessarily point to a “cause and effect” in humans. Within the scientific community there is still a lot of contention as to how much of these chemicals humans are exposed to, and what level of exposure is harmful. Nonetheless, with children being exposed to proportionally more of these chemicals than adults, the AAP feels its prudent to start reducing our exposure.
The AAP have made the following recommendations:
- Where possible choose fresh fruits and vegetables and wash those that cannot be peeled
- Avoid canned foods as these can be lined with BPA (note: there are some BPA free canned products in Australia)
- Avoid plastic storage containers in favour of glass or stainless steel
- Purchase PBA and phthalate free products (note: In Australia we have many BPA free plastic options. BPA has been replaced with other chemicals about which little is known. Because of this it might be a better option to avoid plastics altogether where possible, although there is no evidence to support this)
- Avoid clear plastic wraps (Phthalates) and baking paper (PFCS)
- Avoid Microwaving food and beverages (including breastmilk and formula) (heat causes the chemicals to leach out from plastic)
- Avoid putting plastic products in the dishwasher, hand wash them
- Limit or avoid processed meats (nitrate and nitrate preservatives are used in small goods such as ham and bacon)
- Limit processed foods
- Avoid artificial food colourings
Whilst there are certainly things we can do everyday at home to reduce our exposure to these chemicals, the reality is that it will take a “whole of food supply” approach to truly remove these chemicals from our environment. Sure, you can decant your dry goods into glass jars or buy your grocery items in bulk or from markets, however, many of these products were probably stored or transported in plastic prior to being placed into barrels or boxes at your point of purchase.
In the meantime I’ve taken baby steps at home to start reducing my family’s exposure. For a while now I’ve been using glass storage containers in my pantry (there’s the added bonus that they look nice), I hand wash my lunch boxes each day (these are BPA free), and the lunch boxes I pack are generally free of plastic wrap and packaging (bento style boxes are a great option to help you do this).
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Julia @ Bloom