Bisphenol-A, or BPA, has been much demonized in recent years.
This chemical, banned in France, Canada and China, is used in plastic and aluminum containers with surprising regularity in the United States. Part of the reasons there’s so much noise about the chemical these days is that the FDA refuses to ban it here.
But some changes are on the way. The FDA did, last year, finally ban BPA in certain baby products, including baby bottles). And “BPA Free” stickers are popping up all over the place on water bottles and food packaging, two of the major sources of the chemical in our diets.
This is for the better. BPA is called an “endocrine disruptor” because it mimics the presence of estrogen in our bodies. The effects of this are uncertain, but it’s suspected to contribute to afflictions ranging from diabetes to heart disease, to breast and prostate cancer, to thyroid problems, obesity and infertility. Perhaps most importantly, it’s believed to lead to sexual and brain development problems in children. Children (particularly girls) exposed to BPA during pregnancy have a higher risk of depressed and hyperactive behavior. Some think BPA is also linked to an observed decline in average age at which American girls now hit puberty.
And what’s worse, we’re starting to learn that even “BPA Free” products may not much safer. Remove the BPA, and you typically replace it with another chemical that serves a similar function. The most popular of these is – and no, I’m not making this up – bisphenol S, or BPS.
And BPS, unsurprisingly enough, may be just as bad as BPA. In tests on rats, it interferes in much the same way as BPA with how our bodies respond to natural estrogen.
So, what to do? The best way to avoid BPA, or other nasty chemicals that create the same problems for our bodies, is to avoid plastics and tins wherever possible, and regardless of whether they’re labeled “BPA free.” This is not the easiest thing to do, particularly since when we dine out it’s difficult to know how the food we eat (including the ingredients used to make it) has been packaged.
But there are a couple simple steps you can take to get yourself started on the right track. One is something you should be doing anyway: eating fresh fruits and vegetables. They typically have no packaging, and so no opportunity for chemicals like BPA and BPA to leach into them. Second, if you must use plastic packaging, avoid plastic #7 and favor plastics #1, 2 and 4. Third, when you heat or reheat food, use glass, ceramic or (if not in a microwave) stainless steel containers. BPA is more likely to leach when heated. And finally, when drinking water, look to glass or stainless steel, rather than plastic, cups or water bottles.