Phthalates Everywhere…Even in Your Food (& a Few Tips for Avoiding Them)
Recently, a group of folks who care about keeping toxins out of our food supply tried to deliver a petition to Kraft-Heinz, urging them to get phthalates out of their products.
Those chemicals are plasticizers, used to make plastics flexible yet hard to break. They’re used in everything from flooring and adhesives to personal care products; from kids’ toys to personal care products.
They’re also known endocrine disruptors, which interfere with hormones that affect growth and reproductive health. They’ve been linked to issues such as childhood obesity and early-onset puberty, reproductive and genital defects, and lower testosterone levels in boys. There’s also some evidence that they may contribute to cognitive (brain) issues.
You’d think any sane human being would see the good sense in limiting exposure to such chemicals, but corporations? It’s a different story.
Every effort was made to contact Kraft-Heinz to arrange a meeting, deliver the petition, and start working together toward safer food. When they failed to respond, a small group assembled with one goal: To get Kraft to listen and engage with their consumers by addressing phthalate contamination in their supply chain.
Instead, Kraft-Heinz chose to send security guards to stand outside their door as if we were a threat. Their decision is in line with a long history of systematic corporate denial of health hazards in products, following in the footsteps of the tobacco and lead industries by refusing to even acknowledge that a problem exists, the classic Deceit and Denial strategy.
Anyone surprised by this?
Of course, it’s not just a problem with Kraft-Heinz products either but processed foods in general, especially ultraprocessed products. Research published earlier this year in Environment International found that for each 10% increase in energy taken in from ultraprocessed food products, there was an 8% increase in urinary levels of common phthalates.
Also troubling, if not unexpected: The association was even stronger for kids. After all, their bodies are smaller and still developing. The impact of exposure is naturally greater.
The study also confirmed that while fast foods tended to have higher concentrations of phthalates, minimally processed foods had far less, as well as lower levels of bisphenols A and F.
This study confirms earlier research suggesting that eating out increases exposure to phthalates. Crunching numbers from roughly 10 years of NHANES data (2005 – 2014) from more than 100,000 participants, researchers found that those who ate out averaged 35% more phthalate intake than those who ate at home.
And as in the current study, the association was stronger in kids. For instance, while a cafeteria meal was found to raise phthalate levels 15% in adults, it resulted in a 64% jump for children.
Particular foods, especially sandwiches (i.e. cheeseburgers), were associated with increased Σandrogen-disruptor levels only if they were purchased away from home.
Clearly, making your own meals from scratch at home can be one of the best things you can do to limit exposure to phthalates. That also means using glass, steel, or other non-plastic vessels and utensils for your cooking, since plastics are what put the chemicals into the food in the first place.
If you MUST use plastic, at least avoid it for cooking and keep it out of the dishwasher, since heat releases chemicals from the plastic.
Since phthalates are common in the pesticides allowed in conventional farming, opting for organic can also limit your exposure. If you include meat in your diet, go for grass-fed, since livestock feed is typically stored in plastic containers.
Eating more plants can also be helpful. Studies like the ones above suggest that meat and dairy may be more prone to absorb phthalates because of their fat content. The more plants in the diet, the lower levels seem to be.
But above all, it’s about avoiding the ultraprocessed stuff – even if it’s labeled “organic” and “natural” and “healthy” – and opting for more nutrient dense and toxin-free whole food. Yes, it can take some planning and greater investments of time and money to give your body what it needs to thrive, but we think you’re worth it.