BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a chemical found in many plastics including water bottles, infant formula cans, baby bottles and in the lining of food cans. Science has recently become interested in this chemical and has started to watch it more closely, as a result we have learned that it readily leaches into food. Unfortunately BPA is a nasty hormone disruptor that has been linked to cancer, obesity, reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, liver abnormalities, attention deficit disorder, early puberty in girls, the list goes on and on. Studies are ongoing and repeatedly this ubiquitous chemical is proving to be foe to human and animal alike.
The Bad News:
Canned food is the predominant but not exclusive source of daily BPA exposure. It is also found in hard, clear plastic food containers including baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles and polycarbonate plastics (often marked with the number 7) that are rigid and clear such as food storage containers and microwavable containers. It is also found in many children's toys, and dental fillings and sealants.
BPA is in every single canned food on the market with these three exceptions:
- Eden Organic Beans including Chili, Rice and Beans, Refried, and Flavored. All other Eden canned foods contain BPA
- Henry & Lisa`s Natural Seafood (Sashimi-Grade Canned Albacore Tuna)
- Vital Choice’s Canned Fish Products
Yes, you read correctly, these are the ONLY canned foods on the market that do not contain BPA. EVERYTHING ELSE DOES!!!
BPA leaches from plastic and from the lining of cans into the food stored in those containers. Consumer Reports did a recent report measuring the levels of BPA in several different kinds of food and brands of canned food on the market. The results are abysmal as it was present in everything they tested including baby food and children’s juices .
I find this very disheartening. To be honest, I have known of the threat of BPA for a few years and actively commenced to “purge” my home of BPA containing plastics, but didn’t have the energy or the headspace to address the canned food issue too. I also had myself convinced that I rarely use canned foods. I have since leveled with myself and now have an honest perspective of my canned food usage (the culprits being mostly pumpkin for pies and puddings, and tomato products for stews, soups, crock pot recipes, etc). Fortunately BPA is rapidly metabolized and excreted from the body which can ease one's mind for the occasional exposure to BPA; the real concern being for people who regularly consume canned food products and microwaveable foods containing BPA where blood levels can become "chronic" as the body doesn't have time to clear it. These folks along with young babies and babies in utero are at the greatest risk for negative health ramifications.
The Good News:
Thanks to environmental watchdog groups like the Oregon Environmental Council and the Environmental Working Group, there is a growing awareness of the contamination of our food with BPA and consumers and lawmakers alike are taking notice. Canada announced plans in 2008 to ban BPA in baby bottles and in 2009 Connecticut, Minnesota, Suffolk County NY and the City of Chicago passed legislation eliminating BPA from Children’s products. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued a warning to pregnant and breast feeding women and children under the age of two to avoid BPA.
Currently there is a bill before the Oregon legislature, Senate Bill 1032, that attempts to ban BPA in the food and containers used by children under the age of 3. If you are a resident of Oregon please click here to register your vote with lawmakers to ban this harmful chemical.
What are the alternatives to BPA?
There is always good old fashioned glass, which is among the safest way to buy commercial tomato products. Tomato products are the most BPA-laden canned food due to their acidity and ability to pull the BPA out of the lining of food containers. I have been able to find Bionaturae organic tomato paste and strained tomatoes in glass jars at our local healthy market and I know that these products are available to buy online by the case. The best deal that I have found online is through the Tropical Traditions website. Also there are Pomi Tomatoes in a Tetra Pak (not organic) and good ol’ Trader Joe’s has many tomato products available in Tetra Paks including tomato sauce and soups, all of which are BPA-free.
The BPA-free can that Eden and the other companies listed above use ia a lead-free covered steel can coated with a baked-on oleo-resinous enamel lining. Oleoresin, a natural mixture of oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir, is 14% more expensive than the industry standard cans that contain BPA. The companies listed above that are seeking out these BPA-free cans deserve praise because in order to protect their consumers from this harmful chemical they have to buy special cans that are more expensive than the BPA containing ones, which will drive the price of these products up. Please thank them and buy their products!
Fortunately it is possible to make bottles and other food containers without BPA. For years the baby bottle company Born Free has been producing BPA-free baby bottles, and glass baby bottle options do exist. I used the Born Free products with my two youngest children and was very happy with them. Recently Nalgene and Playtex have started using BPA-free alternatives and Gerber, Avent America, Evenflo, Disney's First Years, Dr. Brown and Playtex will stop selling bottles in the US with BPA.
Back to Basics:
My very wise friend Amy has been freezing her own fresh tomatoes from the garden by coring them and throwing them into a zip-loc bag. Zip-Loc bags are free of BPA and this could be a simple and delicious alternative to canned tomatoes. She uses these in recipes the same way one would use stewed tomatoes or fresh tomatoes. This is the best example of how to avoid chemicals in your food: prepare your own from whole foods!
If growing your own garden is not feasible for you, check out the Biodynamic Farming and Garden Association website to find out what is available in your area. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture whereby consumers “buy” a share in a farm early in the season, say in February or March. This bulk sum pays for your weekly consumption of produce which will start during the growing season and serves as an advance to help farmers cover their overhead costs. CSA’s usually deliver to a local drop point, and sometimes directly to your doorstep. There is nothing more nourishing for body and soul than fresh, ripe produce from the garden, and no better way to instill peace of mind that the food choices you are making are safe.