For those concerned about serious health conditions (breast and prostate cancer, sexual development abnormalities, and now heart disease) linked to packaging additive bisphenol A (BPA), there’s promising news: Earlier this month, the FDA reversed its stance on the chemical, saying it is now “taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply.” It’s a monumental first step, as is the move by cities and states around the country to ban the suspected endocrine disruptor from baby products like formula cans and sippy cups. It could still be years, though, before we see BPA removed from thousands of other products on the market – including those canned soups that you enjoy every day for lunch (more on that later).
What has upset me most about the BPA issue is that we consumers haven’t been granted the knowledge to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to buy products that are packaged with it. As with genetically modified foods, it’s a consumer guessing game: To date, there are still no labeling requirements for thousands of industrial chemicals like BPA that turn up in our food stuffs and packaging. Of course, there’s calorie, fat, and sodium information clearly printed on the package of every last Keebler cookie, but say you want to know if there’s a toxic chemical in your can of bean soup that could to lead to breast cancer? Forget it folks, you’re on your own.
Well, not any longer. Stick to these tips, and eliminate even the sneakiest sources of BPA from your diet.
Swap out your soup. A recent Consumer Reports test found BPA in 19 name-brand foods; the highest levels were in canned soup, including Campbell’s chicken noodle – not the therapeutic effect you want for someone fighting off a cold. I’ve since switched to Dr. McDougall’s BPA-free soups packaged in FSC-certified cartons, or I make my own from scratch. Which brings me to my next tip…
Beware the beans. Don’t reach for canned beans to whip up that batch of black bean chili, unless you’re going to buy Eden Organic – amazingly, the only brand on the market to use BPA-free cans. Westbrae Natural, for instance, says on its website that the lining of its cans is “a type of food-grade epoxy…the simplest earth friendly coating available.” But, it was revealed in a follow-up phone call that its cans do, in fact, contain trace amounts of BPA. Dried beans are a safe bet, plus they’re considerably cheaper.
Toss the tomatoes and tuna. You may love making pasta sauce from scratch, but even that innocent looking little can of tomato paste likely has BPA lurking in its lining. All the more reason to plant your own tomatoes, or check out the Bionaturae brand of tomato paste, which comes in a nifty little glass jar. Canned tuna, and even my favorite health food, sardines, aren’t safe either. You can find tuna in glass as well, though it’s pricey (but thanks to the mercury content, you shouldn’t be eating it that often anyway).
Gossip, don’t drink at, the water cooler. It’s been well publicized that polycarbonate water bottles leach BPA, which is why Nalgene phased it out of its sports bottles. But how many of you have reached for the office water cooler to fill up your Kleen Kanteen, or have bottled water delivery at home because you think the water is “safer” than tap? Surprise – those cooler bottles are made from the same BPA-laden No. 7 plastic that was used for the original Nalgene bottles. Invest in a water filtration system or switch to a Brita pitcher, which is BPA-free.
Ditch the Diet Coke. And the regular Coke. And the Pepsi, Sprite, Fanta, Mountain Dew, and any other soda or energy drink that comes in a can, while you’re at it (as if you needed more motivation to stop guzzling liquid candy, anyway). A study last year by Health Canada found that the majority of soft drinks contain BPA. If you have to get your pop fix, at least enjoy it the old-fashioned way: in a glass bottle.
Protect those pearly whites. If you wind up at the dentist with a cavity thanks to all that soda pop, make sure you ask about the sealant he’s using – there is evidence that some dental sealants may contribute to BPA exposure.
Canners, be cautious. One of the surest ways to minimize BPA exposure is to favor fresh fruits and vegetables over canned goods like tomatoes, since BPA is found in nearly all can linings. And what better way to enjoy fresh produce than to plant your own garden? It’s a cruel irony, however, that gardeners looking to preserve a bumper crop of beets may unknowingly be using BPA-laden home canning products: Jarden Home Brands uses BPA in the manufacture of its lids for Ball and Kerr jars. For a BPA-free option, take a look at the Weck canning jars with glass lids that are popular in Europe.
No receipt, thank you. Amazingly, the greatest threat of BPA exposure may be something we handle nearly every day: receipts. According to the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry‘s John Warner in a Science News article last year, “The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” Milligrams? By comparison, the amount deemed worrisome enough by reusable water bottle manufacturer Nalgene to eliminate the chemical from its polycarbonate bottles was measured in nanograms (that’s
one-millionth of a milligram).
What’s especially scary about the receipt scenario is that there’s no way to control all the possibilities for exposure – picture waiters delivering plates of food after handling customers’ checks, or shaking hands with someone who just put a receipt in his wallet. What you can control: Decline a receipt if you don’t need one (save more trees, too), and wash your hands frequently (good hygiene during flu season, anyway).
Eat that pizza at the parlor. Thanks to all those BPA-laced receipts, those pizzas you order in for movie night may also be tainted, courtesy of the recycled cardboard pizza boxes they were delivered in. Surprise: The BPA doesn’t magically disappear when those receipts are recycled into other paper products. (Another source of the BPA in those pizza boxes is recycled newspaper, since newspaper ink also contains BPA.) I’m not saying we should do away with pizza boxes made from recycled materials, since the environmental damage from not saving all those trees would be arguably greater than the minimal, if any, exposure to BPA from the average pepperoni pie; but if you’re the type who has Domino’s on speed dial, you might want to consider stopping by your local pizza joint once in a while for a slice or two at the counter.
Bottle for beer, you’re in the clear. If you do wind up having that pizza delivered, at least make sure that the six-pack you serve with it is BPA-free by choosing bottled beer over cans. It’s true that the majority of canned soda pop contains BPA, but beer poses even more of a risk, due to the high solubility of BPA in alcohol. Wine isn’t a completely safe choice, either: BPA is also found in the epoxy linings of some wine vats used during fermentation. Short of contacting the vineyard, making your own wine, or becoming a teetotaler, there’s no way to avoid this exposure, unfortunately (take comfort in the fact that the French drink four times the wine that Americans do, and live, on average, 3.5 years longer).
With BPA having seemingly infiltrated the most benign of objects, it’s easy to adopt a “screw it, we’re all screwed” mentality. But my goal here is not to make you an obsessive hand washer who runs screaming at the sight of a pizza box; it’s to highlight just how pervasive the chemical has become, and how important it is that we consumers stand up and demand action. If a 165-pound man can consume 80 times the “safe” amount of BPA from one serving of canned green beans, then what disastrous health effects are we putting ourselves at risk for once you factor in the soup cans, the polycarbonate bottles, the soda pop, and the credit card receipts?
Remember: When in doubt, ask. Even companies implying that they offer BPA-free products can’t be trusted, as so many of us learned when reusable water bottle maker Sigg came clean last year about the BPA in its liners. And if it turns out that BPA is in the product of the company you’re contacting, don’t be afraid to say that you’ll no longer be buying that product. Until the laws change, consumer demand is the only leverage we have.