So you try to choose mostly organic, natural, healthful, locally produced foods.
That’s great … but the kitchen you prepare them in could be making you sick or putting on extra pounds.
With obesity rates continuing to rise at an alarming rate, scientists have started to ask if something aside from diet, exercise, and junk is to blame.
As Robert H. Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco said:
“Even those at the lower end of the BMI [body mass index] curve are gaining weight. Whatever is happening is happening to everyone, suggesting an environmental trigger.”
What researchers like Lustig are discovering is that certain chemicals in foods, drugs, and industrial products alter metabolic processes in ways that promote weight gain or worse.
These insidious enemies – called obesogens – are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they mimic human hormones and thereby can make you sick, fat, or both.
Find the obesogens in your home
About 20 obesogens have been identified … and that list is growing.
These are the best-documented obesogens and their most common sources:
Alkylphenols are surfactants (detergents) used in many industrial, household, and personal care products.
Pesticides like DE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) are linked to bigger BMIs (body mass indices) in children.
Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics due to their bactericide or fungicide properties.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs and dioxins work their way up the food chain and accumulate in animal fats. They’ve been banned for decades, but as the name implies, traces are still found in meats, dairy products, and some fish (farmed fish have higher levels than wild fish).
Phthalates are used in plastics and as solvents, and are found in vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes), plastic packaging film and sheets, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children's toys. People are exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking foods that’ve been in contact with phthalates. To our knowledge – and we’ve asked all of our suppliers – none of our cans or packages that come in contact with food contain phthalates.
Organotins are tin-based pesticides also found in PVC (a type of plastic), in some lubricating oils, hydrogen peroxide, and the coatings of some food packages and reusable glass bottles.
What about BPA?
Because it is the best known endocrine-disruptor and potential obesogen, BPA deserves special attention.
BPA is primarily used in polycarbonate plastics, epoxy resins, and most cash register tapes.
This means that BPA is often used in food and drink packaging (e.g., some water and infant bottles), medical devices, food cans, bottle tops, water supply pipes, and some dental sealants and composites.
When BPA concerns first arose in 2007, we asked all of our suppliers whether any of our food cans or packages contained BPA, and all certified that they did not.
However, most have since refused to renew their certification, because they do not control every part of their supply chain and fear liability for an erroneous certification.
By now, BPA is everywhere in the environment, and like virtually every canned food in the world, our canned tuna has tested positive for minuscule traces.
This happened even though Consumer Reports agreed that the type of lining used in our cans does not contain BPA, and the can maker certified that BPA was not used.
We recommend the February 23, 2010 Washington Post article, “Alternatives to BPA containers not easy for U.S. foodmakers to find”.
As the article says, we spent about $10,000 on lab tests trying to pinpoint the source of BPA in Vital Choice canned tuna, and Consumers Union also found BPA in baked beans made by Eden Foods, which were packed in “BPA-free” cans.
For more information, see our FAQ on the subject, “What are your fish cans lined with? (about PET and BPA)”
Importantly, legitimate concern over BPA distracts from the fact that – according to recent research – BPA-free plastics contain compounds that also exert endocrine-disruptive effects.
Toxins in the kitchen
You also need to keep an eye on toxins that affect the nerve, hormone, and immune systems, whose close interactions and mutual influences have led scientists to consider them one “neuro-endocrino-immunologic” system.
These are the most common offenders:
- Ethanol, lead, and hexane
- Pesticides – Any food or beverage not labeled organic may contain pesticides.
- Perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) – PFOAs can be found in non-stick pots and pans. Look for “PFOA free” on the label. The biggest danger is in overheating or scratching a non-stick pan that contains PFOAs.
Clearly, we can’t identify and avoid all of the potential obesogens and toxins in our lives.
But we can be smart and mitigate our exposure, starting with our kitchens.
Bruce Blumberg, a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, who coined the term obesogen in 2006, sums it pretty well: “Eat organic, filter water, minimize plastic in your life. If there’s no benefit and some degree of risk, why expose yourself and your family?”
Get back to great-grandma’s kitchen
Think old school. Chemicals have been omnipresent in home and personal care products since the 1920’s, so referencing grandma’s kitchen probably isn’t going back far enough in time.
Instead ask, “Would my great-grandmother recognize it?”
- Glass is a clean and cheap way to store nearly anything.
- Steel boxes and stoneware offer another option … and they look fantastic.
- Wood is a great choice. Bamboo, rosewood, and cherry are good options.
- Stainless steel is sleek, cleans easily, and can be run through the dishwasher.
Pots and pans
- Stainless steel is the first choice of serious chefs, and the lightest of all.
- Cast iron is durable, beautiful, a pro at even heat distribution, and it lasts forever. Enameled cast iron is handsome and works in the oven as well as on the stovetop.
- Copper will cost you and require a learning curve, but it will also impress your friends.
- Glass is the way to go when baking. The idea that you need risky non-stick coatings to make a cake turn out right is pure baloney. Just grease the pan with organic butter or oil.
- Stoneware is naturally non-stick, ages beautifully, and comes in a variety of forms from muffin pans to cookie sheets.
To say these tips remove all hazards from your kitchen would be an exaggeration. But a bit of awareness and could help protect your health, your family's health … and your waistline!
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