Healthy eating may no longer be a matter of just what you eat and drink. It may also depend on what you buy, store, prepare, and heat those food and beverages in.
A growing body of scientific research has linked the weak estrogenic compound bisphenol-A (BPA) to a variety of health problems, such as infertility, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
BPA is the main building block of polycarbonate plastic, a hard plastic widely used to make kitchen utensils, food storage containers, travel mugs, and water bottles. BPA is also a main component of the epoxy linings found in metal food and beverage cans.
The problem: Polycarbonate plastics can leach BPA into our food and beverages.
Heat, acid, alcohol, harsh detergents, age, and microwaving can also exacerbate the release of BPA, says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor and BPA researcher at the University of Missouri.
Because their reproductive organs are still developing, fetuses, infants, and children are especially vulnerable to synthetic estrogens BPA. This means pregnant women and kids can benefit from reduced exposure to BPA. Reproductive-aged women may also want to be careful.
“From animal models, it appears that the period right after fertilization and before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, is the most sensitive time in development,” says Randy Jirtle, a Professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University. “So if women are even thinking of becoming pregnant, they should consider limiting their exposure to BPA.”
While BPA may be impossible to completely eliminate it from your life, there are a few key steps you can take to reduce exposure.
Limit canned foods & beverages. The epoxy liners of metal food and beverage cans most likely contain BPA. Vom Saal especially recommends avoiding canned foods that are acid (tomatoes, tomato-based soups, citrus products, and acidic beverages like cokes) and canned alcoholic beverages, since acids and alcohols can exacerbate the leaching of BPA.
The good news: Many foods and beverages can be purchased in glass containers (think beer, olive oil, and tomato paste) or frozen (like vegetables).
Don’t store foods in plastic. Glass food storage containers are inert and there are plenty of wonderful Pyrex containers on the market. Just be sure to wash the lids, which are made of plastic, by hand.
Filter your drinking and cooking water. Since detectable levels of BPA have been found in the water, vom Saal recommends removing it using a reverse osmosis and carbon filter, which generally can be found for less than $200. “In the long run, it’s cheaper than buying bottled water, which isn’t tested for BPA,” he says.
Filter your shower and tub water. According to vom Saal, the relatively small BPA molecules can easily be absorbed through the skin. BPA can be removed from the water by adding ceramic filters to showerheads and tubs. Just be sure to change them regularly.
Don’t transport beverages in plastic mugs. Instead, opt for an unlined stainless steel travel mug. This is especially important when transporting hot beverages, like coffee or tea.
Limit use of hard plastic water bottles. Those colorful light-weight plastic bottles may be great for hiking, but unfortunately, they are made of polycarbonate plastic. For everyday use when a little extra weight isn’t an issue, choose a stainless steel water bottle, and make sure it’s unlined—some metal water bottles contain a plastic liner that may contain BPA.
Klean Kanteen makes an excellent series of unlined stainless steel water bottles
Minimize hard plastics in the kitchen. Hard plastic stirring spoons, pancake flippers, blenders, measuring cups, and colanders regularly come into contact with both food and heat. Fortunately, all of these can easily be replaced with wooden, metal, or glass alternatives.
Skip the water cooler. Those hard plastic five-gallon jugs that many companies use to provide their employees and customers with “pure” water are usually made of BPA-containing polycarbonate. Opt for tap water instead.