Bisphenol A,or BPA, is a chemical widely used in consumer products — everything from water bottles made of hard plastic polycarbonate to canned foods like canned fruits, vegetables, pasta, soups and more. Is BPA safe? How much is too much?
There’s an ongoing debate on the safety of BPA and its potential to cause significant health risk. BPA can disrupt the normal function of hormones in our body. Studies show it may have other adverse health effects associated with diabetes, fertility, cardiovascular disease and even obesity.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets 50 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day as a safe dose. Although we all have BPA in our bodies, the hazardous levels associated with adverse effects have been thought to be much higher than what most people are exposed to. This theory is now being called into question as the EPA and the Food &Drug Administration re-evaluate these levels along with emerging research.
Both the FDA and the National Toxicology Program agree that the potential adverse health effects are cause for concern. Overall, the risk at current levels of exposure from all sources is three to five times under the toxicity level estimated to have adverse effects, so there is no cause for alarm with normal consumption and usage patterns.
BPA is banned in all plastic baby bottles, cups and foods and drinks for kids younger than 3. It’s also banned in sports drinks.
Why is BPA ubiquitous in our canned food supply? Because its presence in the linings of cans helps to prevent contamination and food-borne illness.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research evaluated the consumption of different canned foods and urinary BPA levels in 7,669 people, part of the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey 2003-2008. Results showed higher BPA urinary concentrations from canned fruits and vegetables (41 percent, canned pasta (71 percent) and canned soups (229 percent). Canned beverages, as well as fish and meats, were not associated with urinary BPA levels. These results can serve as a guide to consumers when choosing canned foods and how often to eat them.
Studies are under way right now to further evaluate toxicity and exposure to BPA and its effects on health.
It’s clear from many studies that what we eat affects BPA levels in our body. If you are concerned, take a prudent approach. Here are tips to help you reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible:
Eat as many fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as you can.
Avoid buying canned soups and canned pastas — make your own.
Continue to buy and use the canned foods we know have proven health benefits, like vegetables, beans, tomato products and fish. The health benefits far outweigh the small risk.
Switch to glass or porcelain food containers to reheat or store food.
Check your plastic containers for the number “7,” which indicates it may have BPA. If you see a PC with it, that confirms it contains BPA. Look for BPA-free containers.
Eat a variety of foods to ensure you are not relying upon only canned food sources for your daily nutrition.
Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Total Health, www.totalhealthrd.com, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition &Dietetics.