You're mom didn't tell you, because she doesn't know, but your convenient plastic food containers and reusable water bottles might have a dark side. For years, I and many of my active-minded friends proudly drank out of the beaten-up Nalgene bottles, plastered with stickers, that I'd had since college. But after recent news reports about the safety of plastic, I started to wonder: can plastic containers transfer harmful compounds to foods and drinks? Read on and decide for yourself-and don't forget to tell your mom.
In particular, I was questioning the potential dangers of polycarbonate plastics-often found in reusable water bottles, clear plastic food-storage containers and some baby bottles. In the August issue of EatingWell, Karen Ansel, R.D., investigated the issue and came up with these four facts to help you decide for yourself (share them with your mom, too-she doesn't know about this either):
1. Polycarbonates contain bisphenol-A (BPA), an estrogenlike chemical also used in the linings of some food and drink cans. Studies link BPA to the development of precancerous lesions and abnormal development of reproductive systems in animals. While BPA can leach into food and drinks, whether it actually affects human health is currently not known. However, consumer concern peaked in April after the National Toxicology Program (part of the National Institutes of Health) issued a draft report noting that, given the current science, the possibility couldn't be ruled out.
2. What is known is that we're all exposed to plenty of the chemical. In a 2005 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 95 percent of people screened tested positive for BPA.
3. A study published earlier this year in Toxicology Letters suggests that hot liquids and foods exacerbate leaching in BPA-containing plastics. When researchers poured boiling water into polycarbonate drinking bottles, it caused up to 55 times more BPA to seep out than room-temperature water had.
4. Whether washing containers in hot water causes them to break down and release BPA the next time they're used isn't clear: only a handful of studies have been conducted, and results are conflicting. While heating these plastics in the microwave hasn't been studied, it's not recommended. "We assume there is increased leaching with any kind of heating," says Anila Jacob, M.D., a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.
The bottom line: Manufacturers currently aren't required to label BPA, so there's no way of knowing if it's present in the plastics or cans you use. For now, the best way to reduce your exposure is to use stainless steel, glass or plastics labeled "BPA-free." If you're not sure about a product, recommends Jacob, call the manufacturer.
Are you concerned about plastics? Share your thoughts here.
Interested in living greener? Find more information to help you make healthy choices:
- Find out how plastic rates in the paper versus plastic bag debate.
- Quit brown-bagging it. Discover one of our favorite reusable lunchboxes.
- Faux Food: What's in all that fake food and why to avoid it.
By Michelle Edelbaum
Michelle is the associate editor of interactive for EatingWell Media Group. In between editing and writing, she enjoys sampling the tasty results of the easy, healthy recipes that the EatingWell Test Kitchen cooks are working on.
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