What Chemicals Are in Food? Simple Solutions to Avoid Harmful Toxins in Food

By Melinda Wenner Moyer, "How you can avoid BPA, mercury, pesticides and more chemicals in your food.," September/October 2011

How you can avoid BPA, mercury, pesticides and more chemicals in your food.

"Thank you for this article. This has long been a concern for our family. Luckily my in-laws raise grass fed beef, chicken, and organic pork. I would love a source for more food companies that have eliminated BPA and other toxins from...

Avoiding the Chemicals in Plastic Packaging: Phthalates

Limiting processed and packaged foods, such as frozen dinners and individually wrapped snacks, can help you reduce your intake of sodium, trans fats and added sugars; it may also cut exposure to another class of chemicals that may mess with our hormones: phthalates, used to make plastics pliable. In a March 2011 study, Ruthann Rudel, M.S., director of research at the Silent Spring Institute, an organization that conducts environmental research related to women’s health, collected urine from 20 people who ate diets rich in foods packaged in plastics. Then she asked them to eat only fresh (unpackaged) foods for three days and tested them again. In just those few days, the subjects’ levels of phthalate metabolites decreased by more than half. They didn’t disappear entirely, because we’re exposed to phthalates from things besides food, too, including plastic and vinyl in car interiors, flooring and household goods, such as shower curtains, as well as fragrances in our soaps, dish detergents and other products.

So what types of packages contain phthalates? Unfortunately, because neither food nor plastics manufacturers are required to disclose what’s in the packaging, we can’t be sure. Manufacturers of the plastic wraps Glad and Saran say that their products, made from a type of plastic called LDPE, do not contain any phthalates.

Shanna Swan, Ph.D., vice chair of preventive medicine at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, knows the potential dangers of phthalates well. She has spent much of her career studying factors that affect male fertility; in 2005, she showed that male babies exposed to phthalates in the womb were born with smaller penises, less-descended testicles and physical characteristics associated with poorer semen quality. Her findings landed her on 60 Minutes and ended up “driving the legislation that removed phthalates from children’s toys,” says Swan.

Next: More on the Potential Dangers of Phthalates »

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