These Plastic Chemicals May Be Lurking In Your Food

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Reading the label on a container of yogurt, you would likely expect to see milk and live & active cultures as well as maybe some sugar or fruit. Based on this nutrition label, you would assume that is all that makes up the yogurt and happily put it in your cart. There are, however, many components that do not make it on the label such as chemicals from the packaging and manufacturing of goods.

Consumer Reports recently investigated the amounts of bisphenols and phthalates in over 100 different foods ranging from canned seafood to cereals to fast food. The results showed that our food contains alarming amounts of these chemicals, with many potential negative health consequences.

“Studies have shown that these chemicals can leach into food from packaging and processing equipment, making their way into our bodies.”

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastics to make them more flexible and harder to break. They can also be found in packaging materials and even in the machinery used during food processing. Studies have shown that these chemicals can leach into food from packaging and processing equipment, making their way into our bodies.

“…phthalate compounds can interfere with the body’s hormonal systems, potentially leading to adverse health effects.”

These chemicals are endocrine disruptors, meaning phthalate compounds can interfere with the body’s hormonal systems, potentially leading to adverse health effects. Research has associated exposure to phthalates with issues such as developmental and reproductive abnormalities, particularly when exposure occurs during critical stages of fetal development.

Some studies even suggest a link between phthalates and the gut microbiome. A recent 2023 review from researchers at the National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management analyzed changes to gut microbiota following ingestion of phthalates. Researchers found oral exposure of some compounds altered the balance of beneficial bacteria impacting lipid metabolism and “reproductive toxicity” as well as cholesterol imbalance and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Bisphenols, specifically Bisphenol A (BPA), is commonly found in food and beverage containers and even in the lining of canned goods and disposable paper packaging. Similarly to phthalates, BPA can migrate into food, especially when containers are heated or exposed to acidic contents.

“Ingestion of BPA likely has an impact on the gut microbiome…”

Studies on BPA suggest its potential to mimic estrogen in the body, affecting the endocrine system and potentially leading to various health concerns contributing to the development of cancerous cells. Current evidence suggests a link between hormone-related cancers, most notably breast cancer. Ingestion of BPA likely has an impact on the gut microbiome as well, which can cause numerous downstream effects including “several physiological disorders”.

“…[prioritize] fresh produce and minimally processed foods whenever possible.”

Completely avoiding exposure can be challenging due to their widespread use in packaging and processing. Nevertheless, some steps can be taken to minimize exposure such as prioritizing fresh produce and minimally processed foods whenever possible. These are less likely to come into contact with packaging containing these chemicals. Additionally, look for glass packaging or products labeled as “BPA/BPS-free” or “phthalate-free” as a step toward reducing exposure.

While these steps may help reduce exposure, collective efforts from regulatory bodies, manufacturers, and consumers are needed to make changes. Currently, there are few regulations on these chemicals, and small amounts of them are knowingly allowed in food. Recent studies have shown, however, that even these small amounts can have negative health impacts – especially as they can be found everywhere. Such low-grade exposure when experienced chronically, may have a cumulative effect as well.

“…BPS is likely not much of an improvement as BPS likely has similar hormonal and obesogenic effects as BPA.”

Unfortunately, in 2022 the FDA rejected petitions to completely eliminate phthalates in food packaging and processing materials. The agency cited insufficient data for the 9 approved phthalates regardless of decades of studies. Additionally, the push away from BPA in favor of other bisphenols such as BPS is likely not much of an improvement as BPS likely has similar hormonal and obesogenic effects as BPA.

Stricter regulations on the use of plasticizer chemicals in general is necessary as well as increased transparency regarding their presence in products in order to mitigate exposure and enhance public health. The presence of these chemicals in our food and food packaging has received widespread attention recently when a research report revealed the presence of the same chemicals in bottled water! This remarkable recent finding will be the topic of our next newsletter.

Fiona Riddle Fiona is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD