By Tereza Hubkova, M.D.
It is not only important knowing what to eat, but also how to store the food you intend to eat, what materials to use for food storage, and what cookware to choose.
Numerous studies have confirmed that elements from materials your food is wrapped in penetrate into the food. Of course, it makes a difference not only which food we are talking about (mostly its fat content) but also its temperature and duration of contact with the food. For instance, the molecules of plastic penetrate as deep as 3mm into cheese within 24-48 hours, faster with soft, fatty cheeses than harder ones with less fat content. Exposing your water bottle to higher temperature (such as leaving it on the back seat of your car on a hot day), or microwaving in plastic containers, makes the plastic leach into your food (or water) much more easily.
Because they resemble female estrogen certain components of plastic (such as bisphenol A, also known as BPA) have been found to increase the risk of breast cancer. We call the chemicals that resemble estrogens: xenoestrogens. Since estrogen signaling is a very powerful mechanism in our body already affecting even fetuses still in their mother’s womb, they may set the baby on a path to diabetes, obesity, reproductive problems etc, before they were even born. Early puberty in women, decreased sperm counts in men, and decreased fertility in both has also been linked to some plasticizers. BPA has been linked to higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and liver problems.
We recommend avoiding plastic containers altogether, and using Pyrex (glass) instead. If using food that was wrapped in plastic (such as cheese), discard the first couple of slices each time after unwrapping. Avoid individually wrapped cheese slices altogether.
The worst plastic containers are those with #3, 6, and 7 on the bottom. #3 contains vinyl and PVC, including most commercial cling wrap, bottles used for oil, and some water bottles. It is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen.
#6 contains polystyrene. These are disposable plastic cups and bowls and most opaque plastic cutlery. They are also suspect carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
#7 often contain polycarbonates, are found in baby bottles, 5-gallon water jugs, clear plastic Sippy cups, and Nalgene water bottles. Many contain BPA, a known endocrine disrupter, and linked to increased risk of breast cancer.
Plastic containers get more dangerous if they are worn, damaged, cracked, etc. Throw them away if they have signs of damage, don’t wash them in the dishwasher, which increases the micro tears in them. When possible, transfer your food to glass containers when you bring it home from the store.
Avoid canned foods; most cans are lined with PVC or BPA.
Buy food in bulk to minimize plastic packaging.
For cooking, we recommend porcelain lined or stainless steel cookware. Porcelain lined cast iron cookware (such as le Creuset, World Cuisine) is considered to be completely inert, and doesn't leach anything into your food. Stainless steel seems to work well too, although it does contain nickel, chromium and molybdenum, to which some people may develop sensitivity.
Anodized aluminum cookware may be a safer alternative to stainless steel, as the process of anodizing locks the metals in, so they can’t leach into food. Calphalon and All Clad are the leading manufacturers of such cookware.
Avoid non-anodized aluminum or Teflon cookware. To be fair, the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease is not as strongly established as some people may think, but we would still err on the side of safety. Cooking or storing acidic foods in aluminum pots increases the aluminum leaching into the food. We would not use it ourselves, since there are many safer alternatives.
Teflon when heated releases perfluorooctanoic acid, a likely carcinogen. The chemical released from heated Teflon non-stick pans have been noticed to result in death of pet birds as well as flu-like symptoms in humans.
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