I talk to people about food and health, most days. I discuss how one affects the other, and why it’s important to be aware of this link. However, what we also all need to be aware of are the chemicals and preservatives found in our foods – often without us knowing – that can result in serious ill health.
Over the weekend I shared a link on my Facebook page to the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to BPA. I’ve had several conversations about this topic since, which has got me thinking it’s something worth delving into with a little more.
What is BPA?
BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, an industrial chemical that is found in plastics (e.g. drink bottles, yoghurt tubs, etc) and in the lining of canned food tins.
Why should we avoid it?
BPA is an endocrine disruptor. It’s a synthetic oestrogen that interferes with the body’s natural hormone and health balance, even (controversially) after minimal exposure.
Experts all agree that BPA is toxic at high levels. Many government health agencies, including our own FSANZ, maintain that low levels of exposure and ingestion are not dangerous. However, there’s growing evidence to suggest that the ingestion of even small amounts of BPA may be linked to a wide range of health issues such as infertility, obesity, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, thyroid malfunction and behavioural disorders.
Because of growing concerns, some nations have taken action. Canada, the EU and some US States have phased out the use of BPA in some products. In fact, it was announced today that California intends to declare BPA a reproductive health hazard. In Japan, the majority of manufacturers voluntarily changed their can linings to reduce or eliminate the use of BPA, in 1998.
Here in Australia, a voluntary phase out of BPA use in polycarbonate baby bottles has been introduced.
How can I avoid BPA?
1. Beware the bottle – these days most baby bottles and sippy cups are, or should be, BPA free – particularly as awareness increases and the market with it. If you look on the bottom of a plastic bottle or container, those with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 will be BPA free. Steer clear of plastics marked with PC (which stands for polycarbonate) or recycling code #7, as they are more likely to contain BPA.
This doesn’t just apply to placcy bottles and cups for small people. Us adults drink out of them too… well, maybe not sippy cups. Or maybe. Your choice. Anyway. Shops such as Biome stock a wide range of BPA-free and non-toxic drinking bottles and food containers.
2. Cut down on cans – BPA is often used in canned foods (it helps to preserve the food longer). More and more companies are starting to phase out the use of BPA in canned vegetables, sauces, baby food, etc.. but they can still be hard to find.
A good strategy is: eat food that is as fresh as possible – it’s better for you in so many ways. And, when you are buying packaged / pre-made foods, go for those packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s about making the best choices you can with what’s available. A 2011 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup, every day for 5 days, had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily. Go fresh!
You can also find local and online stockists that only have BPA-free brands, such as Shop Naturally. Ask around.
3. Don’t zap it – if you’re keeping food in a plastic container and you want to heat it up in a microwave, transfer it into a glass or ceramic dish first.
4. Stop eating receipts – I mean, I don’t know if people do this… but I was interested to read that a large percentage of cash register receipts are coated in BPA, which can rub off onto hands and/or food.
At the end of the day, make the best choice you can.
Look. There’s a lot of information out there about what to avoid and what to include – BPA is another one of these. It joins a growing list of health-attenuating factors that have insinuated themselves into our lives, without us even realising. However, once we do realise, it becomes easier to make an informed decision.
I have to say, there is also more to this discussion that BPA alone . We, by virtue of our modern lives, are exposed to and inadvertently consume potentially-harmful chemicals constantly. Our modern-life conveniences are unarguably wonderful, but they come at a price. But. If we’re armed with knowledge and an understanding of how these factors influence our health, we can make better choices.
If you’re interested in reading a little more, take a look at this Choice review of BPA in Aussie canned foods.