It is good to see more and more people think carefully about the food they purchase. These days when we travel to the supermarket and shop for our groceries, we will often ask ourselves ‘is it organic?’, ‘where was it produced?’, ‘what is the nutritional value?’, ‘are there any additives?’, and best of all ‘where is the fresh food at?’ But there is one aspect of food that people give much less consideration – the packaging – and this could be causing people no small amount of harm.
What is BPA?
BPA, otherwise known as Bisphenol A, is an organic (carbon-based) compound. Its structure and make-up is very similar to the hormone estrogen, and this is why it mimics estrogen when it is introduced to the body, binding to estrogen hormone receptors and ultimately affecting the balance of the endocrine system.
Where is BPA?
BPA is used extensively across the world, created primarily for polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, with millions of tons produced yearly. It can be found in plastic water bottles and it also lines the interior walls of cans including food cans and soda cans.
BPA has been used to line cans for over fifty years in fact, and almost every single canned product you can buy will have this lining, with a very small number of exceptions. The majority of human exposure to BPA occurs via the lining of canned foods, because the substance is able to leech into the food itself. Canned soup, vegetables and fruits tend to contain the most, while canned beverages contain less.
Why You Should Lower Your Exposure
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration changed revoked its previous assertion that BPA was safe. Soon after, Canada added BPA to its list of toxic substances, and they and many European countries have since claimed it toxic and banned it in children’s products such as plastic sip cups.
These actions are the result of intensive study into BPA, which has found links between the chemical and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, cancer, and a wealth of problems associated with hormonal activity, covering metabolism, sexual activity and fertility, sleep and concentration, as well as immunity and the nervous system. Given BPA’s role in mimicking estrogen, a big concern is the risk it could pose to children, pregnant women and child development in the womb. From low testosterone levels to hyperactivity in children exposed to BPA in the womb, there is much to be nervous about.
A regularly touted health risk of BPA in recent times has been heart disease. Whether this is true or not remains the subject of debate, but is it just a coincidence that in a study conducted across 758 people, those who went on to develop cardiovascular disease were more likely to have higher levels of BPA in their bodies than those that didn’t? It was most recently reported that children who are exposed to higher levels of BPA between the ages of 3 and 7 have a greater chance of developing asthma when they are older.
The problem is that the effects of BPA have only been properly tested in the lab and with animals, and have yet to be reproduced with any conclusive results in human trials. Having said this, the general consensus and the growing body of evidence describes BPA as a potentially harmful compound, and this is why we should all work to lower our exposure.
Lowering your exposure to BPA
Almost all types of food can be purchased with cardboard or glass packaging instead of tinned packaging, and this makes it easy to eliminate BPA from your pantry. Cooking fresh food is always great; it not only reduces your exposure to BPA in cans and plastics but a host of other toxins that should also be avoided. If you cannot afford to buy fresh food all the time, frozen food in paper-based packaging is the next best thing.
What about plastic bottles and packaging? Plastics marked with Code 7 may include the substance, while plastics marked with Codes 1-6 are highly unlikely to contain it. BPA doesn’t usually leech into food from polycarbonate plastics, but things are a different story when the plastic is exposed to heat, acidic and alkaline substances. This means you should never heat food within a plastic container in the microwave, or use plastic containers after frequent washes. Better still choose stainless steel, glass or ceramic containers for cooking instead.
The argument for eliminating BPA is the same as the argument for reducing additives and other toxins in your diet. We don’t know exactly how many health problems BPA can cause and their extents (new results are being published all the time), but given how easy it is to switch to a BPA-free life there is no reason why we cannot play it safe and ensure we don’t become victims of this controversial compound.