Bring it to Barb


Dear Barb,

I have been hearing about a chemical called phthalates. Does eating meals out a few times a week really expose us to enough of that chemical to matter? Is it accumulative?

Fast Food Junkie


Dear Fast Food Junkie,

I hate to be the one to deliver the bad news, but sandwiches such as cheeseburgers prepared outside the home will increase phthalate levels by 30 percent among all age groups.

Phthalates are chemicals not talked about much but are increasingly a concern. These chemicals are found in food packaging and processing materials, used to make plastics more flexible and sturdier. The concern is the possible leeching from the plastics with packaging and plastic factory tubes that are used in the processing of foods, which can wind up in our mouths.

This doesn’t mean that you should panic simply because you eat out often. With plastic and other phthalate-containing materials seemingly everywhere, it is difficult to completely avoid exposure. They’re used in toys, electronics (such as personal computers), car-care products, insecticides, and many household products, including adhesives, plastic wrap, plastic containers, flooring, furniture, wallpaper, shower curtains, and other things made of vinyl or PVC.

You should be aware that phthalate chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors in our body, meaning they can contribute to reproductive issues, metabolic issues and neurodevelopmental problems. Scientists have linked this chemical to interference with sex hormones. It’s no surprise that it is linked to cancers. This chemical interference is also linked to obesity as well as infertility and autism.

Cafeteria food phthalate levels were a staggering 64 percent higher in adults, adolescents increased 15 percent. A team led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley used data of more than 10,000 participants. Using urine samples, the researchers studied the links between participants and found that those who ate out had a cumulative daily intake of phthalates that was 35 percent higher than those who prepared their meals at home. It was highest among teens. It is unclear what amount is safe but the effects of phthalate exposure may add up over time.

Other countries have banned various types of phthalates, however the U.S. lags behind these other countries in regulating the use of phthalates.

It is therefore prudent and our own responsibility to regulate ourselves and the amount of exposure that we intentionally, knowingly allow. You now know, so it is your job to resist eating out. Eating out is tempting and convenient and we live in a fast pace, hurry up world and an astounding two-thirds of the U.S. population eats out at least some food outside the home every single day!

But the truth is, we all wake up and have the same 24 hours to handle our life hurdles, time crunches and problems; nevertheless, it’s what we make important in that same 24 hours that matters. Planning meals at home every day or a week in advance is a strategy. Stashing almonds or an apple or low sugar energy bar in your car for calming those hunger pangs really works!

Why not eliminate any chance of exposure from fast food or cafeteria food? Sounds simple enough, but it takes discipline and enduring a few hunger pangs in your stomach as you drive past a fast food restaurant when you are hungry. Home preparation can help you reduce sugar, unhealthy fats and salt consumption and you will certainly save a lot of money as a bonus. Splurge and make eating out a treat every six months.

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