New Study Shows Eliminating Canned Foods & Plastic Food Packaging From Diet Significantly Reduces BPA Levels

A peer reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives provides evidence that eliminating canned foods and plastic food packaging from your diet can dramatically reduce the concentrations of bisphenol A (BPA) and DEHP metabolites in your urine. And what it really means that if you are concerned about exposure to BPA and DEHP, you can do something about it. The study was conducted by scientists at the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute.

BPA is used in virtually all canned food and beverage linings and is also the basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic, which is used for food and beverage storage. If you want more information on BPA, you can check out my post on the basics of BPA. BPA is associated with endocrine disruption in animals and in some human studies. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an update on BPA in which it agreed with the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health that there is “some concern” about the potenetial effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children. Many scientists and researchers, however, are much less reserved when it comes to the safety of BPA, particularly for infants and fetuses, and urge complete avoidance of BPA in food and food contact items.

DEHP is a phthalate commonly used to soften PVC plastic. It can be found in some plastic packaging used for food. It is also linked to endocrine disruption.

The study involved 5 families, with a total of 20 participants. In the study, over a 3 day period, the families ate food that was prepared and stored with minimal canned foods or plastic food packaging. During the three day period of minimal canned food and plastic packaging a caterer prepared and delivered food, avoiding foods packaged in plastic and canned foods. Urine samples were collected before (on days 1 and 2), during (on days 4 and 5), and after this “fresh food” diet. After the “fresh food” diet, the families returned to their normal diet, and urine samples were collected on days 7 and 8.

The urine samples were analyzed for BPA and 7 chemicals that assess for exposure to 5 different phthalates – DEHP (used in some food packaging), DEP, DBP, BBP and DMP.

The study results showed that while the families were eating the “fresh food” diet, their BPA levels dropped on average by more than 60%. For the three metabolites that were used to measured exposure to the phthalate DEHP, all 3 dropped by more than 50% during the “fresh food” diet. When the participants returned to their regular diets, BPA levels increased to approximately the pre-intervention levels.

So, what does this mean for you? That you can reduce your exposure significantly to BPA and DEHP by making dietary adjustments:

  • Choose fresh, frozen, dried or glass jarred over canned foods.  Canned foods and beverages are a major source of BPA exposure for most people. As the study demonstrates, by eliminating canned foods you can significantly reduce your BPA exposure. There are some BPA free canned goods out there, such as Eden Foods canned beans.
  • Choose baby bootles, sippy cups and other food storage and serving pieces that are not made of polycarbonate plastic.
  • Choose soups, milk and soy milk packaged in cardboard “brick” carton or glass.
  • Skip water from those 5 gallon polycarbonate plastic bottles.
  • Skip certain plastic wraps which can be PVC. Plastic wrap was first made of PVC. And, PVC remains the most common in food wraps used in catering and other commercial applications. However, many of the leading plastic wraps used in the home have switched to a PVC-free wrap, including Saran Premium, Glad Cling Wrap and Handi Wrap. They are made of low density polyethylene.
  • If you buy soft cheeses and other products wrapped in a plastic wrap, remove the wrapping when you get home and store in glass or similar plastic free storage.

The complete study, entitled “Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention” by Ruthann R. Rudel, Janet M. Gray, Connie L. Engel, Teresa W. Rawsthorne, Robin E. Dodson, Janet M. Ackerman, Jeanne Rizzo, Janet L. Nudelman, and Julia Green Brody is available online.

BPA: What are simple steps to reduce my baby’s exposure to BPA?

Updated May 9, 2008 

Simple Step #1:  Switch to a BPA-free bottle.  You are looking for a bottle that does not have any components that are made of polycarbonate plastic.  Try the list here

Simple Step #2:  Minimize leaching from polycarbonate plastic bottles.  If you can’t switch to BPA free bottles, then minimize leaching of BPA from polycarbonate baby bottles: 

  • Discard old, worn or scratched polycarbonate baby bottles or sippy cups.  Leaching occurs more readily from worn plastic.
  • Heat food and drinks outside of the plastic and transfer when cool enough to eat or drink.  Heat appears to increase the rate of leaching.
  • Wash bottles and sippy cups by hand with a mild dishwashing soap, such as castile soap, instead of a harsh detergent or placing them in the dishwasher

Simple Step #3Check your infant formula.  The packaging for infant formulas contains BPA, and the BPA leaches into the formula.  Canned prepared liquid infant formulas have the highest rate of leaching.  If you are using prepared liquid infant formula, choose the ready-to-feed formula from Similac in quart-size plastic containers.  These are free of BPA.  If you are using powdered infant formula, the single serving powder packets by Enfamil and Similac are BPA-free.  This option can get expensive, however.  So, choose an infant formula with the smallest amount of surface area coated with BPA on the interior of the can.  According to information retrieved from the manufacturers’ websites, calls to customer service, and the letters submitted to the Congressional Committee investigating BPA in infant formula, Nature’s One infant powdered formula, Baby’s Only organic, only has the easy open metal top coated with a resin containing BPA.  The Earth’s Best also only has the top lined with BPA (although Earth’s Best apparently gave the EWG different information). 

Simple Step #4:  Choose sippy cups and other food storage and serving pieces that are not made of polycarbonate plastic. 

Simple Step #5:  Choose soups, milk and soy milk packaged in cardboard “brick” cartons (BPA is used in a resin to line cans) 

Simple Step #6:  Choose fresh, frozen, dried or glass jarred over canned foods.  Canned food may be the major source of exposure for most people.  The Environmental Working Group released a report in March 2007 that reported results of its testing of certain canned foods.  The study found that: 

  • Cans of chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had the highest BPA levels.
  • 1 in 3 cans of infant formula had BPA levels “200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.”
  • Overall, 1 in 10 cans tested had high levels of BPA.