There is little doubt that eating at fast food restaurants and other convenience-based food outlets carries a significant health risk. For many consumers the understanding is that the foods served at these places tends to have more sugar, might be high in saturated fat, or could be fried in low quality seed oils that get reused repeatedly. As if this were not enough to reconsider, a new study published last week revealed even greater risks. Those subjects followed over time showed that their blood phthalate levels were on average 35% higher the morning after eating at a fast food restaurant or sandwich shop.
Phthalates are a class of chemical plasticizers that were created to make plastics soft, malleable, and are used in a variety of packaging materials. While they are widely used in food packaging, the food that gets distributed to restaurants is often packaged in individual servings that simply need to be thawed, microwaved, and/or fried prior to serving. Phthalates migrate into food with longer exposure times and heating the plastic packaging, in the case of microwaving, really accelerates the contamination.
Although the word appears new to many consumers and is a tongue twister (pronounced THALATE), it has been studied by epidemiologists for decades now. Research has unquestionably linked its exposure, in very small amounts, to a variety of chronic diseases. It has been shown for instance, that men in Australia with moderate phthalate levels have significantly higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more inflammation overall (1). Studies have also demonstrated that Phthalate’s ability to alter genetic expression and initiate disease process, may change neurological development in young children or contribute to age-related diseases that occur later in life(2,3). Additionally, these plastic-based chemicals have a clear impact on brain health and have been implicated in several neurodegenerative/brain diseases that have inflammatory mechanisms.
To minimize our exposure to phthalates, it is important to avoid both fast food restaurants and food that is packaged in plastic wrap for long periods of time. Use waxed paper whenever possible and check out the “If You Care” brand of non-phthalate food wraps and packaging. If you choose to microwave your food, be sure to use glass or ceramic containers and not those made out of plastic. These exposures are both common and easy to avoid. Your children will thank you one day. We are confident that future research on these chemicals will continue to show significant health risks and will leave many of us asking why we didn’t change food packaging laws years ago.
~ John Bagnulo, Director of Nutrition
1. Bai PY et al. The association between total phthalate concentration and non-communicable diseases and chronic inflammation in South Australian urban dwelling men. Environ Res. 2017 Oct;158:366-372. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.06.021. Epub 2017 Jul 4.
2. Tran NQV, Miyake K. Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Environmental Toxicants: Epigenetics as an Underlying Mechanism. International Journal of Genomics. 2017;2017:7526592. doi:10.1155/2017/7526592.
3. Vaiserman A. Early-life Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Later-life Health Outcomes: An Epigenetic Bridge? Aging and Disease. 2014;5(6):419-429. doi:10.14336/AD.2014.0500419.
4. Preciados M, Yoo C, Roy D. Estrogenic Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Influencing NRF1 Regulated Gene Networks in the Development of Complex Human Brain Diseases. Tchounwou PB, ed. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2016;17(12):2086. doi:10.3390/ijms17122086