Friday, March 30, 2018

Eating Out Exposes You To A Lot More Harmful Pthalates

What am I going to cook tonight?   That is a question that haunts many a parent every single night.  At our house, truthfully I actually enjoy cooking and put things together last minute (usually some veggies and a protein and then maybe I will add a noodle, tortilla, polenta or quinoa into the mix), experimenting with mediums (stovetop, roasted etc) and sauces / or no sauces.   But, even though I  love cooking, I also need a break from time to time (hello weekends!!!)- and so our family usually eats out or orders take in on the weekends.

A new study, however, might make you and us more likely to cook a home cooked meal- at least a couple of times a week.   Turns out that eating outside the home—at restaurants, fast-food joints, and cafeterias, including delivery and take-out—is correlated with higher body levels of phthalates.

What are Phthalates and how do they get into our food?

Phthalates, in this case, are a class of chemicals that are added to plastics to make them softer/ more malleable.  Phthalates can pose risks to pregnant women and children and disrupt male hormones like testosterone. They have also been linked to learning and behavior problems in older children, as well as birth defects in boys.

 Unless you are buying 100% of your food at the farmers market just about all of our food is in some way, shape or form probably exposed to phthalates - via plastic containers, food-handling gloves, and processing equipment....  The chemicals easily migrate into our food and we then ingest them.   

However, this recent study conducted by researchers from from UC-Berkeley, UC-San Francisco, and the George Washington University found that people who ate out at least once the day before their urine was measures had 35% higher phathlate levels than those who had not.   

Eating at full service restaurants,  fast food spots or  cafeterias all expose you to higher phthalates levels  ... however frequent fast-food consuming adolescents had phthalate levels 55 percent higher than their home-eating counterparts ( if your family eats at fast food spots frequently also beware that wrappers used in these places like the papers enveloping fast-food hamburgers and pastries and the boxes cradling fries or pizza usually contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)- the Teflon chemical linked to high cholesterol levels, immune system issues in children, low birth weight, and certain types of cancer ).  

Also of note:  Among the most phthalate-heavy foods were cheeseburgers and sandwiches purchased at a fast-food outlet, restaurant or cafeteria.

What to do?
The good news is that yes, it is small amounts of phthalates that get into the food.  Also, good news is that phthalates actually do not bioaccumulate in our bodies- our body can get rid of them in a day or so..... BUT the bad news?

  • -  small amounts do add up- especially if you are eating out every day (ie at work or children at school cafeterias) 
  • - we aren't only exposed to phthlates via food- we are also exposed often through beauty products, artificial fragrances, toys etc... just adding to the small amounts adding up inside everyone's bodies.
  • research shows that African Americans and Latinos and other vulnerable groups are exposed to higher phthalate levels- these groups are less likely to be able to afford fresh organic foods


If your entire family is eating out constantly (or ordering delivery constantly) the littlest members of the family are much more affected by the levels of phthalates since they are so much smaller in size than us adults.   

  • - I won't stop eating out any time soon on the weekends but I will  limit it to 1-2 a week.
  • - be aware of the packaging your food comes in.   Choose fresh ingredients when possible and try to not use plastic containers/bags.  When possible choose glass containers instead of plastic or cans
  • - when cooking at home avoid non-stick pans.    Opt for glass, stainless steel or cast iron.
  • - never bring home takeout or leftovers in styrofoam containers.
  • - choose organic whenever possible.


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