Heavy New Year? I know I plumped up over the holidays, having merrily consumed more calories than I burned. Still, as it turns out, there may be some truth to the age-old dieters’ lament that the pounds seem to pile on by themselves. Some toxic chemicals, found in plastic and cleaning and other daily products, can actually be so fattening they’re known as "obesogens." These synthetic substances "mimic" the behavior of estrogen and other hormones and have also been linked to cancer and learning problems.
One notorious obesogen is Bisphenol-A (BPA), which was associated with higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in humans in a 2008 study. In a 2010 study, mother mice exposed to higher levels of BPA were found to be heavier than those who were not, and their offspring were more likely to be fat and pre-diabetic. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic (PC #7) sports and baby bottles, canned food linings, pizza boxes, cash register receipts, and, as revealed last month, dollar bills. Plastics and cans are believed to be our most common routes of exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which found it in the urine of nearly all of the 2,500 people the Centers tested in 2003 and 2004.
Fear not! While BPA is pretty much everywhere, it can be avoided. This coming Tuesday, January 11, I’ve been invited to participate in an "eco-salon" sponsored by Whole Living and hosted by Environmental Defense Fund’s San Francisco office to talk about how to reduce our exposures to toxic chemicals through consumer choices.*
I love Whole Living’s 10 Healthiest Resolutions, which come with the sage advice: start small. Click below for five small but significant steps (adapted from my book, Do One Green Thing) for a lighter and less toxic New Year.
1. Bypass the BPA: Eat more fresh and less canned food. Phase out sports and baby bottles and kitchenware made with plastic. Use my lists of top food storage containers and safest drink bottles. Never microwave food in any plastic containers; even so-called "safe" plastics have been found to leach BPA when heated!
2. Choose green, botanically-derived household cleaning products, like these dish soaps. Use my list of conventional cleaning ingredients to avoid toxins for the sake of your indoor air and our waterways. Yes, household air can get a little stale in January, but rather than spraying toxic synthetic "air fresheners," crack a window to let real fresh air in. For fragrance, set out some potpourri or dip diffuser sticks in a vial of plant essential oils.
3. Don’t buy toys, apparel and home decorating products made with PVC vinyl. Often identified by the recycling code #3, these can be contaminated with lead and phthalates, which have been linked to obesity in human adults, asthma in children, and reproductive deformities in infants and wildlife.
4. Eat more organic and locally-grown produce and fewer meats and processed foods. It's good for your waistline and you'll reduce toxic pesticide exposures and unhealthy fats, preservatives and sugars in your diet. You can also choose low-mercury, sustainable fish using EDF’s handy seafood selector cards.
5. Stop buying bottled water. First of all, it’s generally not safer than tap, as shown by EWG’s 2011 drinking water report. Also, 80 percent of disposable plastic bottles wind up in landfills and oceanic garbage patches. And, when heated, these polyethylene (PET #1) bottles can release phthalates and other toxic chemicals in some tests, as this 2010 study finds. Drink tap water, filtered if necessary, and get involved with EDF's efforts to preserve major ecosystems by making water use more sustainable.
Got a question? Ask me in the comments section below, and I’ll reply. You can also see more green living Q & As in WL’s Econundrums column.
Happy Nontoxic New Year!
*You’re Invited! If you’ll be in the Bay Area Tuesday January 11th, please join me at the Whole Living/EDF eco salon. RSVP here.
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.