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Boxed Mac N’ Cheese Contains Dangerous Endocrine Disruptors. (Is Your Cheese Contaminated?)
If you were to pick one type of physical material that is essential to the modern world, that makes so many of the products and services we take for granted possible, it would have to be plastics. They’re everywhere— in kitchen and household products in your home, in countless medical, industrial devices and equipment, in motor vehicles. It is even in the phone or computer you’re using to read this article right now. Plastics are so ubiquitous we barely even notice that they are there. And – in a lot of ways – it really has made our lives a lot better. But there is one area where plastics are heavily used which few people think about, but could be having a profound impact on our health. Plastic in foods is often overlooked.
Recently, reports have come out detailing how many plastics, used to wrap and preserve food, contain harmful compounds which can have damaging effects on hormone levels in humans, especially in males. Some foods which are frequently packed with such plastics, such as cheese, where found to be significantly contaminated with these compounds.
Plastics: A Potential Poison?
Many types of plastic which we use to wrap and preserve cheese, deli meats, and other products contain chemical compounds called phthalates. These chemicals are often added to plastics to make them more flexible and durable. They can also be used as solvents in other products.
There are hundreds of products that make use of phthalates, ranging from vinyl flooring to detergents, lubricants, wearable products like ponchos and raincoats, and various hygiene products like soap and shampoos. It is the method of using phthalates that concerns us and so does its use in food-related applications. The evidence suggests that ingestion is the form of phthalate exposure that people are most at risk for through food consumption.
Phthalates act as endocrine disruptors, which is a term used to describe levels that interfere with human hormones in harmful ways. There are many different chemicals which can be classified as endocrine disruptors, and they can cause a wide range of serious health problems, including, but not limited to: Learning disabilities and cognitive development issues, birth defects, various forms of cancer, and problems with levels of sex hormones which can cause a multitude of health and developmental problems.
These compounds can contaminate food in a number of ways. They can seep into the food from direct contact, such as when food is enclosed in plastics wrap. Some foods however are more at risk than others. Cheese especially was shown to have extremely high levels of contamination in a study from the University of Washington. Researchers there found that 29 out of the 30 cheese samples they analyzed contained phthalates from the plastic wrapping. So why is cheese so susceptible to this form of contamination?
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Why is cheese so susceptible to this form of contamination?
It is because of the unique fat-binding qualities of phthalates that allows them to easily attach to the fats found in cheese and other fatty foods.
A number of researchers link phthalates to the disruption of proper sexual development in boys and girls. They connect this chemical with the impaired development of genitalia in females. In males, it lowers sperm count levels later in life and leads to an increased risk of testicular cancer.
This is especially alarming when one considers what a common ingredient cheeses are. We add cheese to so many recipes and products available in the grocery store. Processed and packaged foods like macaroni and cheese appear to contain higher levels of phthalates. Boxed macaroni and cheese was found to contain levels of phthalates four times higher than that of hard cheese, according to the University of Washington study.
RELATED: Does Plastic Cause Cancer? Video
What can you do?
There’s no need to despair. Here is what you can do about it.
- The best approach is to simply eat a better diet.
- Avoid processed foods, and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables.
- Educate yourself.
- Adjust your shopping habits.
- Reduce your intake of the types of cheese and other food products most at risk for contamination.
- Drink plenty of water, and get plenty of exercise. Research has shown that sweating is a great way to eliminate certain contaminates from your body, and this includes phthalates.
Another resource that will be helpful is the Environmental Working Group. They compile a list called the “dirty dozen” of endocrine-disrupting products to avoid, and provide suggestions for healthy alternative products to buy instead.