What chemical do we ingest in nearly every meal we eat, linked to hormone disruption, brain and behavior problems, cancer and heart problems?
The answer is BPA or Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used commercially in plastics and resins since 1957. We’ve discussed the dangers of plastic and tips for eliminating it from your home: simple steps like drinking from a stainless steel water bottle instead of a plastic one, packing leftovers and lunches in glass Tupperware containers, and avoiding heating plastic dishes (microwaving in plastic dishes, running them through the dishwasher, and using them for hot foods or liquids all break down the plastic and release BPA).
Unfortunately, though, BPA isn’t just in plastic; it’s in metal canned goods, too. BPA is used to make the epoxy resin that lines the inside of metal food and beverage cans. Just like plastic, resin-coated metal cans leach BPA into food. This is especially concerning to preparedness-minded individuals, since many of us have lots of metal-canned goods laid up in food storage.
“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Newsweek.
Here are some tips for getting BPA out of your life:
Eat fresh. Whenever you can afford it, eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned to avoid BPA in metal can linings. Fruits and veggies lose some nutritional value during the high-temperature canning process, and canned fruit is usually loaded with sugar, so eating fresh is better for you all around.
Eat frozen. Fresh produce might not be in your grocery budget every week, but a good alternative to canned goods is frozen fruits and vegetables. They pack more nutritional value ounce-per-ounce, and don’t contain as much BPA. Invest in a chest freezer so that you can pack it full of enough healthy goodness to last your family for a couple months.
Eat at home. Restaurant meals are notoriously high in BPA; not only that, but meals cooked at home are healthier, lower in sodium, and much cheaper. If you are eating out and you’re not sure if an item on the menu is made from fresh or canned ingredients, ask! Your server should be able to tell you.
Buy food in BPA-free cans. Many grocery stores (especially stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods) carry BPA-free brands of canned goods. Eden Organic is a great option because not only do they package their food in BPA-free cans, they disclose what they use in place of BPA (plant-based resin), so you know that they aren’t substituting BPA with some other harmful chemical. Another good brand is Muir Glen. If your grocery store doesn’t carry BPA-free canned goods, speak up. At the checkout counter when asked, “Did you find everything okay?” you can reply, “No, actually. I was looking for BPA-free canned beans. Will you ask your manager to start carrying those?” Grocery stores cater to what their customers want, so if you persistently pester they’ll get the hint.
Soak your own beans. As convenient as it is to grab a can of BPA-free beans from Trader Joe’s, it can also be expensive. BPA-free canned goods are sometimes up to 50 cents more than their less-healthy counterparts. Instead, you can buy your own dried beans in bulk (they’re really, really cheap at stores like WinCo and Costco) and soak your own. Yes, it requires a little planning, but it’s so easy: Just dump the beans into a bowl and add water.
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Avoid all-in-one canned meals. Canned ravioli, canned soup, etc., usually have some of the highest instances of BPA (and the highest MSG and sodium content, too). So skip the nasty stuff and cook real meals; if you’re pressed for time in the evenings, throw something in the crock-pot before you leave for work in the morning.
Buy food in Tetra Paks. You know those containers that look like giant juice boxes? They’re Tetra Paks, they’re BPA-free, and you can buy coconut milk, chicken and vegetable broth, and ready-made soup in them.
Buy spaghetti sauce in glass jars instead of metal cans. It’s a simple switch.
Watch out for canned tomatoes. Because they’re highly acidic, canned tomatoes are among the worst foods for BPA leaching. Even if cost and convenience cause you to keep buying canned goods of every variety, consider switching out your canned tomatoes. Some grocery stores now carry tomatoes in glass jars or Tetra Paks.
Can your own food. Home-preserving your own food in glass bottles is so satisfying because you know the history of the food your family is eating. Learn how to use a water bath canner and a pressure canner. Of course, some home canning lids also contain BPA, but as long as you leave some space between the food and the lid (which you should be doing anyway), you can avoid contamination. And as of fall 2012, Ball and Kerr lids are BPA-free.
Go for BPA-free baby formula. Infants are especially susceptible to the detrimental health effects of BPA, and infant formula can be a major source of BPA. Look for brands that don’t use BPA in their metal cans (major brands Enfamil, Similac, and Gerber no longer use BPA). Choose powder over liquid, since powder formulas typically have lower levels of BPA.
Don’t get overwhelmed at the prospect of cutting back your BPA intake; just start with one or two healthy changes. Your health — and your family’s — is worth it.
What are ways you avoid BPA? Share your tips in the section below: