Friday, January 22, 2010

Healthy Change #9: Know your Plastics

Late last week, the FDA revised their opinion on the safety of BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical component in plastic products that leaches into food and beverages, even cold ones.  In 2008, the FDA stated that they thought BPA was safe.  Regardless, many parents had long since decided to listen to the many researchers who were claiming that BPA was linked to cancer, heart disease, Type-II diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction and early-onset puberty.  This is very evident in the influx of new products advertising BPA-free.  Three years ago, after reading about the risks of plastic baby bottles, I had to special order BPA-free bottles for my youngest child.  Now BPA-free bottles and feeding utensils are on every shelf in every store.

Finally, the FDA looks to be getting up to speed.  They've revised their position and are "now concerned" about the chemical.  According to USA Today, however, they neither called for a ban on the chemical or called for a change in consumer purchasing behavior. They are though investing $30 million in BPA research with results expected in 2 years.  In the meantime, parents must continue to make their own decisions on the safety of this chemical.

The 3 plastics to avoid are PVC, polystyrene, and hard polycarbonates.  Can't tell?  Look for these recycling symbols on the bottom of the object.  They're typically found on clear food packaging, disposable plates and cups, meat trays, take-out trays, baby bottles and many drinking containers.  Each of these plastics have shown to leach BPA.  The website,, has a really good article on the recycling symbols on plastics, what they all mean and the benefits/risks of each.

Another source of BPA is that white lining inside cans.  Tomato base foods (higher acidic) tend to have the highest leach levels, beverage cans appear to have the least.  There's irony in the fact that my "organic" diced tomatoes are in lined cans.

Liquid infant formula is of particular concern.  Infants and pregnant women are most thought to be at risk of side-effects of leaching BPA.  According to another article in USA Today, "All U.S. manufacturers use BPA-based lining on the metal portions of the formula containers. Tests of liquid formulas by FDA and EWG show that BPA leaches into the formula from all brands tested. Enfamil formula appears to have the highest concentrations of the 20 tests."

A couple of other suggestions:  Watch out for that plastic lined coffee tumbler. Look for stainless steel that is not lined with any type of plastic.  Look at the bottom of your plastic drinkware and your children's dishes and check the symbols.  Also, watch your microwave bowls.  Make sure they don't have the improper recycling symbol.  In fact, switch to glass bowls whenever possible when heating foods in the microwave.

The USA Today article states that according to the CDC, more than 90% of Americans have traces of BPA in their urine.  That's reassuring isn't it?