BPA: What You Should Know

BPA has been a buzz word the past few years around our food and the potential health risks associated with it. I’m all for using less processed chemicals in our daily routine, so I decided to do a little research on the subject before I decide that BPA is the enemy. This is something I feel as though we do too often. We find something new to hate or rail on when there could be benefits to whatever it is that’s gained our disapproval. So in the following, I’ll be writing about the research I’ve done on the subject, and the changes I’ll be making to my purchasing habits, if any. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some of the questions around BPA for myself and others.

BPA: What is it?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical that is used to make certain resins and plastics. These resins and plastics are then used in the packaging that store the foods we purchase. They’re usually found in the plastic of plastic containers or sprayed inside of tin cans that hold the food we buy. The primary concern with BPA is, that when the chemical is heated, it can then leach into the food that the container is holding. A reported 93% of Americans over the age of six have been found to have BPA in their urine.

This is a concerningly large percentage of people. And if the chemical is detrimental to our health, then it could have grave consequences. And according to this article from the National Library of Medicine, the effects of BPA aren’t wholly beneine. Some risk factors include, “…BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumours such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders…”. That’s a good list of reasons to stay away from packaging containing BPA.

Avoiding BPA in Our Day to Day

Now that we have some idea of how the chemical interacts with the body, my next question is to find out where it can be found and how to avoid it. As it turns out, BPA is found in a lot of different products we use regularly. Here’s a link to “EWG”‘s site, which I found on “Eat This, Not That” that has a pretty comprehensive list of foods that shows which packaging contains BPA. Just type the food and brand into the search bar and see if they show up on their list. It’s stated on their site that there’s over 16,000 products containing BPA. So it’s worth checking out if you’re concerned.

Items such as plastic storage containers and water bottles, baby bottles are made with BPA and tin cans are lined with the chemical to protect its contents from the off taste of tin. Thermal register tape is coated with it, as well as certain types of dental fillings and most plastics marked with the numbers 3 and 7. This article from NPR goes into some detail about how to avoid it. This article and this one are a little dated, but have some more insights as to where BPA can be found.

Image Credits: “How to avoid BPA” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Other Perspective

There is another side to the BPA story. One which suggests that the chemical is safe in the amounts that it is found in the items and food packaging we use everyday. This site, Facts About BPA, lays out an argument for the continued use of BPA in products.

The very title of the site states that this is the truth about BPA. While they may not be lying about how they are presenting their information, they skirt the negative, potential side effects of the chemical. It’s also worth noting that the people who own and operate the website are also the largest producers of the chemical. So it would be more than fair to say they have a vested interest in the positive disposition of their product.

So Which is the Best Choice, BPA or BPA-Free?

For me and my health, I’m leaning more towards the camp of BPA free. It seems to me that taking in any amount of chemical that is proven to cause a variety of healthy malides, seems irresponsible. Why take the risk? Even if the FDA is saying that there are “safe” levels that we can ingest. We’re most likely never going to completely avoid it, but lessening our contact to it will certainly reduce the chances of the potential health risks.

This also gives us the opportunity to use fresher ingredients in our meal prep. Since BPA is mostly found in the lining of cans and in plastics, if we purchase fresh produce and proteins, we’ll be steering clear of the chemical. And our food will taste fresher in the process.

Using Fewer Processed Foods While Cooking

How I’m approaching this dilemma is by cooking more of my foods from their more whole, natural states. For example if a recipe calls for black beans, instead opening up a can, I’ll use my instant pot to cook a batch. As far as I know and this way, the plastic bags holding the dry beans don’t contain BPA and the beans are cooked to order each time.

I use to cook black bean soup at a restaurant I worked in in my twenties. So I know the time that’s involved in cooking dry beans from scratch on the range. The instant pot is an incredible time saver. Here is a link to The Minimalist Baker’s post on cooking grains and beans using the instant pot. As I’ve said above, it is a great way to save time and definitely worth looking into getting one if you do a lot of cooking. Here’s a link to some product reviews of the different brands and types of pressure cooking devices from The Spruce Eats. They cover everything from stove top pressure cookers to electric ones, slow cookers and pressure canners.

Another way to avoid processed food would be to purchase fewer premade meals. I know we’re not all afforded the luxury of time, and I recognize that I’m coming from a cooking background. So my knowledge level and cooking skills aren’t where everybody is at and save me time as well. But learning to cook is a great way to take care of yourself while also being an act of nourishing your body as well as creating stronger bonds with family and friends.

If you’re new to cooking, here’s a link to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Cooking School. It’s mostly online, and they have loads of resources for free. You can learn recipes developed by Christopher Kimball and his team, but you can also learn other cooking techniques. Their most recent class was on knife skills. A basic for any would be chef to learn for sure.

And the ultimate way to use fewer processed foods, grow your own! I have many happy memories of playing in my father’s community plot and the park next door as a child. Along with creating fond memories, and making a beautiful space to enjoy, you also can’t beat the freshness of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Not to mention the money you’ll be saving by growing your own.

Other Ways to Avoid BPA

Water Bottles

One of the big ones on the list for me was using a different water bottle. I use to use an old plastic Nalgene. Which according to this post from Healthfully, Nalgene hasn’t used BPA in the production of their bottles since 2008. And fortunately for me, I received a stainless steel travel mug as a gift and have been using it ever since. The water bottle I had been using was definitely older than 2008. So it was time for an upgrade for sure.

Stainless steel works well for my needs as I make a lot of tea during the course of the day. Especially since heat is what releases BPA into the liquid of what certain types of plastic containers are holding. So if you’re in need of a new water bottle, or you are picking up something at a store on your way somewhere, check the bottom of your bottle.

This article from The Berkey, says that any container marked with a 3 or 7 in the recycling symbol, or labeled as “PC”, may contain BPA and or other toxic chemicals, such as BPS or BPF, that could be dangerous to your health. “…even little concentrations of BPS and BPF may upset the capacity of your cells in a path like BPA”-Berkey. So it’s best to avoid these containers altogether.

Also, I do have a water bottle on the nightstand next to my bed. On the bottom of the bottle, there is an etching, stating that it’s BPA free. So when in doubt, check the bottom. Also, going to the website of the company that made your bottle may answer some of your questions about what’s in their products as well.

Thinning Out Your Plastic Collection

This may also be a great opportunity to go through your water bottles, weeding out any that could contain hazardous chemicals. But also to look at your other kitchen storage containers, devices and appliances. Maybe the plastic containers you use to store leftovers, the ones that you picked up from that takeout place, are marked with a “3”. Or the bowl of your food processor has the letters “PC” on it.

This way you’re able to take inventory of what may need replacing or just put them in the recycling. For example, if you have a blender that has BPA in it, then every time you blend something right from the range you’ll be melding more than just flavors into your sauce.

Or you can do what I’ve done which is make the switch from plastic storage containers to glass. I use quart sized Ball Jars for not only my dry goods, but also when I cook meal prep, I store all my meals in the same jars as well. And when I take lunch or dinner to work with me, I also take a glass lunch box with a bamboo lid. And for breakie I use pint sized Ball Jars for my overnight oats. This way, no chemicals and I’m also using natural materials that will be recycled or decompose when I’m done with them. Win win.

Buying Bulk

Also if you live buy a natural grocery or have a store in your city dedicated to environmentally friendly bulk products, then buying your soaps and detergents in bulk, using eco-conscious, reusable packaging is another option. There are two places that are somewhat close by to where I live that sell items like body wash and laundry detergent that you can fill your own containers with.

How it works is, you bring your own container or sometimes they have containtors there for you to use. You take the weight of your packaging, i.e. a glass jar and write it down on a sticker you then apply to the jar or container. When you bring the item to check out, they weigh it as they would weigh produce at most grocery stores and subtract the weight of the container from the product weight.

The products are cheaper than most that are similar to them because you’re not paying for packaging. But also reduced shipping weight lessens the use of fossil fuels to get the product to you. Reduced packaging and avoiding toxic chemicals, less fuel being used and the same quality of product. What’s not to like?

Wrapping Up… Or Unwrapping Rather

BPA has been linked to so many health concerns that even though the FDA says there are safe levels of the chemical to consume, my perspective is why take the risk? We have alternatives and lucky for us, they’ve been around for millenia. There’s also the health benefits to consider when we eat fresher, less processed foods. So if you’re concerned about the state of the food you’re purchasing, or just want to reduce the amount of plastics you consume, think about incorporating some of these changes into your shopping habits. And you’ll inadvertently be creating greener and healthier habits in the process. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Plastic Bottle Waste” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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