While you are reading this, there is a high chance that you are consuming food or water which has come in contact with plastic sometime before you put it in your mouth.
Plastics are ubiquitous. Look around in your kitchen , your water sipper, dinner plates, your child’s cutlery, non-stick cookware, from storing masalas to daal, rice and namkeens; plastics have made eating and storage far more convenient. But is it also making you sick?
Did you know that plastic containers have chemical linings which might often leach into your food? And some of these chemicals – like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, might do strange things to your body, mimicking and disrupting hormones in ways that even scientists haven’t fully understood.
No Such Thing as Safe Plastic
True story. Sorry to burst your bubble, even the products marketed to you as ‘microwave safe’, ‘BPA-free’ yada yada yada are all a marketing ploy.
Bottom line – plastic is not so fantastic, you can’t 100 percent trust that any plastic is free from toxic compounds.
When you microwave food in a plastic container, infinitesimally small quantities of plastic get into the food via a process called ‘leaching’ or ‘migrating’.
For instance, if you microwave plastic containers or bottles, or put hot liquids or foods into them, BPA leaches into your food or drink 50 times faster than when used cold!
There is also evidence that chemicals leach from plastic faster when the container is:
- Old and scratched
- Comes in contact with oily, salty or acidic foods
- Frequently put in a dishwasher
- Washed with harsh detergents
So far there’s no research that answers how much amount actually gets into our body.
BPA & Phthalates – Your Chemical Enemy Number 1
BPA (or bisphenol A), is a “plasticizer” used in making of hard, clear plastics. Notice the lining inside the canned foods? Even that is BPA, a chemical which has been shown to impersonate hormones such as estrogen, and it is associated—though not definitely linked—to a broad range of health problems, including cancers and cardiovascular disease.
A large number of animal studies show that high doses of BPA mimic and disrupt hormone function, especially that of estrogen thereby affecting your fertility. One large, well-conducted study in humans showed that people who had high levels of BPA in their urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.
The “BPA-free” label may simply be a meaningless marketing ploy. A growing number of studies suggest that manufacturers are swapping BPA for chemical cousins that have the same levels of toxins.
The other chemical enemy in plastics is a group called phthalates. They are everywhere, even in the indoor air you breathe. Like BPA, these are hormone disruptors as well and have a significant effect on male fertility.
An association between higher levels of phthalates in the body and low sperm count and quality has been found in adult men. Subtle genital changes in the children born to the mother having high phthalate levels has also been reported.
That’s not all. In the past few years, researchers have linked phthalates to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low-IQ,
neurodevelopmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues.
Related Read: BPA Present In Most Canned Foods Can Alter Your Hormones
What Should You Do?
Plastics are a nearly unavoidable part of modern living but there’s a huge difference in the plastic in your car and the plastic in your lunch box. You don’t eat your car.
Here are some solutions to minimise the use of plastic in your life:
- Mineral water bottles are for one-time use only. Stop recycling them forever.
- Use cloth shopping bags.
- Avoid bottles and plastic containers that are made from polycarbonate (usually marked with a number 7 or the letters PC) and polyvinyl chloride (marked with a number 3 or PVC).
- Eat fresh foods and not canned which besides giving you an overdose of BPA and preservatives, are stripping out all the nutrients.
- Minimise the use of baby bottles – breastfeed and/or use a glass bottle instead of polycarbonate bottle.
- Never pre-heat your nonstick cookware on high flame.
- Don’t put non-stick cookware in an oven over 500 degrees.
- Your grandmother was right about the cast iron cookware. It’s the safest and the best.
- Reduce use of microwave. If unavoidable, use paper towel or ceramic or glass plates but not plastic.
- Store food in glass or stainless steel containers, rather than plastic.
- Discard scratched or worn plastic containers.
(Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. He endeavors to help people lead a healthy life without medication. He can be reached at email@example.com)