This post was written by Christine Lepisto. Photo: iStockphoto
The Breast Cancer Fund has just released a study showing that BPA is found in canned foods marketed specifically to kids. The study examined 6 products designed to excite your little ones at mealtime. What did they find? Disney Princess Cool Shapes and Toy Story Fun Shapes have more than just imaginative pasta and chicken broth. These two Campbell's soup products tested with the highest levels of BPA. Surprisingly, Elmo Noodlemania from Earth's Best Organic came in third highest, ahead of Annie's Homegrown Cheesy Ravioli and Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Pasts, Mini ABC's & 123's with Meatballs. Campbell's Spaghettios with Meatballs scored the lowest BPA levels.
OK, pause for outrage. Take a deep breath. Now, let's look a little more closely.
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BPA, short for bisphenol-A, is used in the epoxy-resin liners that separate canned foods from the metal cans, helping to preserve the foods and preventing corrosion of metals into the food contents. It is a chemical that mimics our natural hormones, leading to concerns that it can have harmful effects at lower levels than chemicals that do not pretend to be part of our body's natural chemistry. The potential effects are too numerous to list, but include suspected effects on fetal and infant brain development as well as an increased tendency towards obesity.
As always, one should not forget the benefits side of the equation. Some lining must be used with canned foods, and alternatives are not yet widely available. So BPA is one price we pay for convenience at this point in time.Is There Cause for Concern?
Are the levels found by the Breast Cancer Fund cause for concern? Studies completed for the REACH law in Europe indicate that no effects are expected -- with a good margin of safety -- when BPA is consumed in foods and drinks at levels of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.
A serving of canned soup or pasta tips the scale at about 120 grams (counting 2.5 servings per can -- that poor third child that gets only half a serving!). Even at the highest level tested in the Breast Cancer Fund study, that calculates out to a bit under 0.02 milligrams of BPA per serving.
That means your three year old, at about 33 pounds or 15 kilograms, could eat 30 servings of food or beverage with a similar level of BPA and still remain within what has been determined to be a safe level.
That being said, some studies have found higher levels of BPA in human bodies than would be expected, suggesting that it can accumulate. This means that it is important to avoid a steady intake of BPA if you want to stay on the safe side.
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Moral of the story: open a can of soup if you are really under time pressure (and already made your peace with the high fat and sodium content and general lack of fiber and nutrients) -- once in a while. But it doesn't take much time to drop a few fresh veggies into some low sodium chicken stock, with some fun pasta shapes you can store on the shelf without BPA risk (or try some great recipes for busy Moms and Dads).
When calculating your kids' daily exposure, don't forget that your expensive aluminum water probably has BPA in the liner (unless it was sold explicitly as BPA-free), and many plastics with the number 3 or 7 recycling code also contain BPA. And for infants, still in the most critical phase of brain development, stay away from BPA by breast feeding, or at least using BPA-free bottles for formula feeding.
Also, the study found levels in the product taken from California shelves fairly consistently to have slightly higher BPA content than product bought in Wisconsin. There is a simple lesson here: heat contributes to the leaching of BPA by accelerating the process. So if you do have canned foods on your shelves, keep them in as cool a pantry as you have available.
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