It makes sense that November, which kicks off our feasting season, is also National Diabetes Month. It’s easy to gain weight over the holidays, and being overweight is one of the top two risks (the other is lack of exercise) for developing Type 2 diabetes, which is growing at an epidemic rate. Fattening diets of sodas and processed foods—high in added sugars and fats and low in fiber—have long been linked to diabetes, but another possible risk factor was recently identified: the plastic chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA), which leaches from the linings of food cans and from polycarbonate (#7) bottles, and has been found in the bodies of 95% of Americans tested.
In two recent studies, one on human adults in 2008 and one on pregnant mice and their offspring this year, higher exposures to BPA have been associated with diabetes. In the human study, those with most BPA in their urine were also more likely to have cardiovascular disease—which goes hand-in-hand with diabetes.
Now a new study has found BPA in 60% of the canned and plastic-packaged foods tested. The authors, including Dr. Arnold Schechter of the University of Texas School of Public Health and Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, concluded that “food packaging systematically causes the occurrence of BPA in foods.” (For an excellent summary in Science News, click here.)
What You Can Do
First of all, don’t panic. You don’t have to radically rearrange your lifestyle and avoid canned or processed foods altogether. Levels found in the packaged foods tested in the University of Texas study mentioned above did not exceed the EPA’s current recommended daily limit, researchers said. However, because we are exposed to BPA through many other sources, including polycarbonate (#7) plastic food and drink containers and the coatings on store receipts, it’s worthwhile to choose less risky alternatives when possible.
Simple diet and lifestyle shifts can keep you and your family diabetes-free. Eat whole foods, such as brown rather than white rice, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. This Thanksgiving, you can choose fresh cranberries and pumpkin instead of canned and skip a possible dose of BPA. (Give diabetes another kick by taking a half-hour walk after dinner.)
No time to convert pumpkin innards into pie? You can find pureed pumpkin in glass jars or in cans from companies who assure they don’t use BPA. For BPA-free ideas and a pumpkin pie recipe, click here.
Got a question about BPA or safe plastics? Leave a comment below, and I’ll reply post haste! And send me your other econundrums here—you might see the answer in an upcoming issue.
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s “Econundrums” columnist. See her answers to reader questions and ask your own here. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.