No, I’m not going to nag you to buy all local, organic food and scare you with horrible stories about factory farms and GMO’s. That’ll be next week.
This week, let’s talk about what you use to store and to cook your food.
Many of us have seen the spread of “BPA-free” labels on plastic containers. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to make plastics AND epoxy resins found on the inside on metal containers such as canned foods and bottle tops (didn’t know that did ya!?). Research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers made with BPA. It has been linked to neural and behavioral problems in infants (skip the store-bought formula). It is also shown to mimic estrogen, increase insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and the risk of heart disease. BPA has been phased out of use in baby bottles, however it’s still prevalent in reusable water bottles, cans, bottle tops, and many plastic containers we use to store our food. So avoid containers marked with a seven for the recycling code—unless it specifically states that it’s BPA free. Better yet, buy and store your food in glass or stainless steel containers with no lining.
But BPA isn’t the only plastic to be wary of. Plastics are made from crude oil and natural gas and often modified with chemical additives to ensure color, texture, resistance, and flexibility. Many of these toxic chemical additives mimic substances in our body, making them even more dangerous. These toxins leach from plastic over time, but the process is sped up by heating, microwaving, repeat washings with harsh detergents, scratching and cracking, and prolonged contact with fatty or oily foods. This includes nylon, PVC, polystyrene and polycarbonate.
The easiest way to keep your family safe is to convert your food containers to glass or stainless steel. But another, less expensive way is to keep an eye out for these recycling codes:
Avoid PVC (code 3), polystyrene (code 6), and the “other” category which includes BPA (code 7).
Codes 1, 2, and 4: polyethylene is “generally considered safe” (although I prefer to steer clear when I can).
Polypropylene (code 5) is considered the safest plastic for human use.
But again, I strongly recommend converting to glass and stainless steel, even over time. They last longer, don’t leech any toxins into your food, and they are easier on the environment.
So that’s the storage end of the line. What about cooking food? My first tip: do not microwave your food if you can help it. I’ve got a counter-top toaster/convection oven on my Christmas list. It’s been over debated on the effect that microwaves have on your food and whether or not they leak radiation. It’s been my experience that food cooked in a microwave #1 isn’t as good and #2 doesn’t stay warm as long. So why take the risk of possibly destroying the nutrients and leaking radiation into your home? I prefer to play it safe and only use it when it’s necessary.
Now let’s chat about non-stick cookware. Cookware coated in that convenient, illusive substance: polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) aka Teflon. When heated to 680°F, cookware coated with PTFE can release MORE THAN SIX toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and a chemical that is known to be lethal to humans. Some toxic particles are released at temperatures as low as 464°F. These temperatures and higher can be easily reached whenever you preheat your pan on a high setting. Chemicals from this family are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease. Also, PFE’s do not biodegrade well and last a long time in the environment and our bodies.
These toxins are particularly harmful to birds, and many pet owners have lost their birds when the fumes from overheated PTFE caused their sensitive lungs to hemorrhage and fill with fluid. When exposed to overheated nonstick cookware, human beings can contract “polymer fume fever,” which results in flu-like symptoms. The most well-known of these dangerous toxins is perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which has caused cancer, immune system damage, and death in laboratory animals. Close to 95 percent of Americans have detectable amounts of PFOA in their blood, so it has definitely become prevalent.
And PTFE can be found in more than just pots and pans—it’s in numerous products such as paint, stain-resistant carpet, electric razors, and even the lining of microwavable popcorn bags.
The best alternatives for Teflon coated cookware are stainless steel, ceramic and cast iron. In fact, most professional chefs prefer them.
So the next time you are thinking of convenience, just remember what it’ll cost ya. And the next time you’re out shopping for storage containers or cookware, stick with time-tested materials, not industrial chemicals.