I am somewhat of an environmental health obsessive—I skip plastic water bottles (only stainless steel Kleen Kanteens for me), choose phthalate free beauty and body products and rarely eat canned food. By avoiding those things I'm hoping to prevent exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (like Bisphenol-A, or BPA, and phthalates) that are found in many plastics, personal care products and in the linings of cans.
But some frustrating new research makes it sound as if there's no point in my precautions. Researchers at the University of Washington conducted an experiment with ten families for five days—half were given a catered diet of local, fresh, organic food that was not prepared, cooked or stored in plastic containers. The other five families were given some advice on how to avoid BPA and phthalates, but were left to eat whatever they wanted.
At the end of the five days the scientists tested the urine of the ten families and were surprised to find that the people on the catered organic diet had much higher levels of phthalates and BPA than the other group did! Analysis of some of the food used in the organic meals found that the dairy products and some spices contained phthalates—particularly ground coriander, which was contaminated with very high levels of the chemical.
So, does this mean we shouldn't bother avoiding BPA in bottles and picking phthalate free products because even our organic food is polluted with them?
In a word: No. While it's true that some degree of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is inevitable (they persist in the environment, which is how they wind up in organic cows milk and coriander), it still makes sense to do what you can to minimize your exposure.
For more about the dangers of these substances, and tips for avoiding them, visit the Environmental Working Group.
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