Gastric Plastic | Seventh Generation
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Gastric Plastic

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Author: the Inkslinger

Let's be clear: There's no denying the miracles provided to humanity by space-age polymers. Plastics do so many clever things, there's no imagining life without them. But here's one surprising feat they need to stop performing—the trick of adding the things they're made from to the foods they help us store.

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives hints that at least some of the plastics found in our kitchens appear to be getting it backwards: Instead of us storing our food in them, they're storing themselves in our food.

Researchers selected five families who regularly dine on canned and packaged foods. The families ate normally then switched for three days to a diet of foods that weren't canned or packaged in plastic before going back to their usual fare. Over the period, urine samples were checked for traces of bisphenol-a (BPA) and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), two hormone-disrupting chemicals found in food-grade plastics. During the can- and plastic-free fresh-food phase of the operation, levels of BPA in these samples dropped by about two-thirds on average while amounts of DEHP metabolites (what's left inside us after our bodies break down phthalates) fell by more than 50%.

In the words of the study's authors, "BPA and DEHP exposures were substantially reduced when participants' diets were restricted to food with limited packaging." While it must be stressed that this is a small study that's hardly definitive, these results nevertheless suggest that our food may come with more than nutrients when it comes in plastic and that we'd be wise to adopt practices like these:

  • Don't microwave any food in plastic of any kind—including so-called "microwave-safe" containers. Use only microwave-safe ceramics and glassware even if it means transferring foods from the microwaveable packages they come in.
  • Don't serve or store foods, especially hot foods or foods made with fats or oils in plastic containers. Heat encourages plastic leaching, and fatty foods may more easily absorb many of the chemicals that result. Use glass, metal, or ceramics instead.
  • If you opt to stash leftovers, school lunches, and other foods in plastic, use containers made from #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE or #5 PP plastics, which have been found to be generally safe for food storage.
  • Avoid #7 polycarbonate food storage containers and water and infant bottles. This plastic has been found to release BPA.
  • If you're unsure whether a specific container is safe but still need to use it, line it with unbleached wax paper first to ensure that food doesn't make contact with any surfaces.
  • Don't wash plastic containers with dishwasher detergents containing chlorine. This harsh alkali chemical may accelerate the leaching of toxic plastic compounds.
  • Avoid deli-wrap and similar products. When foods like sliced cheese and meats are sold in plastic bags and or plastic deli wrap, transfer them as soon as possible to unbleached wax paper, foil, or a safe container.
  • Recycle your old plastic containers, especially those that are heavily worn and/or scratched. As plastics are more likely to leach toxins as they age, and scratches give them more microscopic surface area to do it.
  • Play it safe and only use glass bottles for infant feedings. Never feed an infant out of a plastic container of any kind.

Lastly, remember what happened in the recent study: A diet of foods that hadn't been in contact with plastics or cans appeared to offer the best defense against certain unwanted chemical ingredients showing up on our daily menus. That makes your family's best bet a larder filled with fresh, whole foods and those with a minimum of packaging and processing. Stick to the good stuff, and it won't leave a whole lot sticking to you.

 

photo: ilovebutter

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MichelleMcG picture
MichelleMcG
07/14/12
I've been concerned about plastics for longer than the questions have been posed, yet no "expert" could give me a difinitive answer. Walking thru the grocery store it is amazing that no one can get away with not having something put in plastic--even your fresh fruits and veggies--try putting them in a glass container and taking them up to the front register--they would think you are nuts! I do agree to take them out of the plastic upon bringing them into your home--I do that. I have glass containers and mason jars for about 75% of everything. I just need to invest in metal containers or glass that is large enough to put flour, sugar etc into. Some of the containers out there are costly so it is a slow process, however, I will eventually be mostly plastic free :)
hdonahue picture
hdonahue
05/25/12
I agree that this is hardly a peer-reviewed article, but is meant to be taken at face value. When it gets down to the nitty gritty, there is no definitive evidence of what plastic chemicals actually do in our body. I do believe that nothing good can come from leaching petrol-chemicals personally and I do feel that people should stray from plastics as much as they can. It's an important subject that the general public usually doesn't hear about in the mainstream media and seventh gen is trying to make this more digestible information so people can pass it on. Yes this article has its flaws but it gets the point across that chemicals that we know nothing about are leaching into our food and into our bodies.
benlandman picture
benlandman
05/25/12
"A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference." A professor of mine attributed this to William James; on the Web it's credited to Gertrude Stein. Either way, it's relevant here. A two-thirds *average* decrease in BPA is meaningless: it could mean that some people's levels stayed the same or even went up while others dropped substantially, and tells us nothing at all about whether meaningful changes took place. For that matter, even if every subject's DEHP metabolites fell by fifty percent, it would be helpful to know: fifty percent of what? Was the base level a threat to health to begin with? How much of a decrease in exposure to actual phthlates is required to achieve a 50% decrease in residual metabolites? And does a 50% decrease in the residual metabolites make any meaningful difference in subjects' health? These kinds of half-facts could have come right out of Darrell Huff's classic guide, "How to Lie with Statistics." Moreover, responsible science reportage would stop at "...it must be stressed that this is a small study that's hardly definitive." Putting the "but..." afterwards and then suggesting that a whole variety of kitchen practices are harmful -- piggybacking the recommendations on the shoulders of a single, small-sample, as-yet unreplicated study -- is trying to have it both ways ("I acknowledge that no conclusions can legitimately be drawn from this study -- and now here's a whole list of conclusions"). That's neither good science nor good journalism. I should mention that our family hardly has our heads in the sand about environmental toxins and dangers: In our home, we compost; minimize plastic purchase and use; continually consider our consumption practices; recycle and reuse everything we can; and use appliances that are as fuel- electricity- and water-efficient as we can. We're also well aware that it's hard to sort out the contributions of different pollutants to specific health problems. But we think green ends are better served by solid, well-presented information than by unconvincing, selectively reported alarmism.
cyprium picture
cyprium
05/25/12
I have to admit that this just stresses me out. I wish companies would take it upon themselves to use safe packaging so consumers don't have as much to stress over.
organicbabydolls picture
organicbabydolls
05/25/12
So many people still believe tefflon and other nonstick (plastic lined) cookware is ok to use. Just another way to think you're cooking healthy and "non-fat" but you are really just getting more toxic plastic into your diet :(