Are Your Household Staples Really BPA-Free? 3 Ways To Tell, Says An MD
When it comes to endocrine disrupters, the phrase alone tends to send many into a tailspin. After all, there are thousands of these synthetic chemicals out there identified in everyday items. One of the most widely studied happens to be bisphenol-A (commonly referred to as BPA): This specific endocrine disrupter mimics estrogen in the body, and it's been shown to increase the risk1 of chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes, as well as some reproductive disorders and autoimmune diseases.
Unfortunately, BPAs are quite common—and they lie in more household items than you think. But according to pediatrician, author, and NYU professor, Leonardo Trasande, M.D., it is possible to limit your exposure. As he shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, you have the power to create a truly BPA-free household. Just mind these three tips:
Pay attention to your canned food.
According to Trasande, the lining on aluminum cans is notorious for its BPAs. "Canned food is the main pathway of BPA exposure," he says (in addition to that glossy coating on paper receipts). Now, you might find many brands of canned goods with "BPA-free" stamped on the label. But even those require a closer look, says Trasande: "Consumer pressure led to companies replacing BPA with 40 or so other BPs." So, sure, the can might not have any BPAs specifically, but it could still have many other forms of BPs (like BPS, BPF, and so on). "A 'BP' means they kept most of the structure intact, and structure follows function," he adds.
That's not to say you should fear canned food forever—simply take a closer look at your labels to make sure it's free of any BPs—not just BPA. Many brands will now specify BPA- and BPS-free, especially ones that use Tetra Paks: "The plastic they’re using is relatively safe," he notes. But to ensure a completely bisphenol-free meal, Trasande recommends relying on dry or frozen goods for the time being. "The plastic bag is less likely to absorb the chemicals into the food in the first place," he explains. Just don't chuck the entire thing in the microwave and assume you're all set (more on that later).
Check the number on your plastic.
Typically, all plastic items will have an accompanying number on the bottom (it's usually inside of the recycling symbol). This number refers to what type of plastic the container or bottle is made of, and according to Trasande, there are a few numbers to keep in mind.
"Watch the number on plastic bottles, specifically three, six, and seven," he says. "Three is for phthalates; number six is for styrene, a known carcinogen, and seven is for bisphenols." While number seven technically refers to BPAs, those other chemicals might not be so safe to consume either—especially when they're exposed to the microwave.
Plastic has the ability to leech into your meals when it's heated, even if the label deems the container "microwave safe." In fact, that label only takes into account the "gross misshaping" of plastic, when there could be some concerning reactions happening under the surface: "At the microscopic level, plastic gets shaved off and absorbs into food with heat," Trasande notes. The best (and simplest) way to avoid ingesting those plastics, he says, is to keep it away from the microwave altogether.
Know when it's time to ditch your plasticware.
On a similar note, be mindful of any scratches or damages on your plasticware. Especially if you're one to dishwash those items: "The high temperatures in the dishwasher can erode that plastic," he explains (similar to how microwaving can shave the plastic at the microscopic level). Better to hand-wash your plastic containers and bottles than rely on the rinse cycle.
That said, if your plastic looks damaged, it might not be from your average wear-and-tear: "It signals that the protective layer has been undermined," Trasande notes. And the more that layer erodes, the more chemicals can ultimately absorb into your food. "If it's obviously scratched or broken, it's time to throw it away," Trasande advises.
Endocrine disrupters like BPAs may be common, but you do have the power to limit your exposure—especially in your own household. You certainly don't have to toss your Tupperware, per se, but make sure you're mindful of how you use and clean your plastic. Easy tweaks can keep your BPA exposure to a minimum; or, better yet, invest in glass containers for all your meal prep needs.