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BPA in canned and pre-packed food

I talk to people about food and health, most days. I discuss how one affects the other, and why it’s important to be aware of this link. However, what we also all need to be aware of are the chemicals and preservatives found in our foods – often without us knowing – that can result in serious ill health.

Over the weekend I shared a link on my Facebook page to the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to BPA. I’ve had several conversations about this topic since, which has got me thinking it’s something worth delving into with a little more.

image via choice.com.au

What is BPA?

BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, an industrial chemical that is found in plastics (e.g. drink bottles, yoghurt tubs, etc) and in the lining of canned food tins.

Why should we avoid it?

BPA is an endocrine disruptor. It’s a synthetic oestrogen that interferes with the body’s natural hormone and health balance, even (controversially) after minimal exposure.

Experts all agree that BPA is toxic at high levels. Many government health agencies, including our own FSANZ, maintain that low levels of exposure and ingestion are not dangerous. However, there’s growing evidence to suggest that the ingestion of even small amounts of BPA may be linked to a wide range of health issues such as infertility, obesity, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, thyroid malfunction and behavioural disorders.

Because of growing concerns, some nations have taken action. Canada, the EU and some US States have phased out the use of BPA in some products. In fact, it was announced today that California intends to declare BPA a reproductive health hazard. In Japan, the majority of manufacturers voluntarily changed their can linings to reduce or eliminate the use of BPA, in 1998.

Here in Australia, a voluntary phase out of BPA use in polycarbonate baby bottles has been introduced.

How can I avoid BPA?

baby bottle1. Beware the bottle – these days most baby bottles and sippy cups are, or should be, BPA free – particularly as awareness increases and the market with it. If you look on the bottom of a plastic bottle or container, those with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 will be BPA free. PC7Steer clear of plastics  marked with PC (which stands for polycarbonate) or recycling code #7, as they are more likely to contain BPA.

This doesn’t just apply to placcy bottles and cups for small people. Us adults drink out of them too… well, maybe not sippy cups. Or maybe. Your choice. Anyway. Shops such as Biome stock a wide range of BPA-free and non-toxic drinking bottles and food containers.

2. Cut down on cans – BPA is often used in canned foods (it helps to preserve the food longer). More and more companies are starting to phase out the use of BPA in canned vegetables, sauces, baby food, etc.. but they can still be hard to find.

A good strategy is: eat food that is as fresh as possible – it’s better for you in so many ways. And, when you are buying packaged / pre-made foods, go for those packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s about making the best choices you can with what’s available. A 2011 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup, every day for 5 days, had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily. Go fresh!

You can also find local and online stockists that only have BPA-free brands, such as Shop Naturally. Ask around.

3. Don’t zap it – if you’re keeping food in a plastic container and you want to heat it up in a microwave, transfer it into a glass or ceramic dish first.

4. Stop eating receipts – I mean, I don’t know if people do this… but I was interested to read that a large percentage of cash register receipts are coated in BPA, which can rub off onto hands and/or food.

At the end of the day, make the best choice you can.

Look. There’s a lot of information out there about what to avoid and what to include – BPA is another one of these. It joins a growing list of health-attenuating factors that have insinuated themselves into our lives, without us even realising. However, once we do realise, it becomes easier to make an informed decision.

I have to say, there is also more to this discussion that BPA alone . We, by virtue of our modern lives, are exposed to and inadvertently consume potentially-harmful chemicals constantly. Our modern-life conveniences are unarguably wonderful, but they come at a price. But. If we’re armed with knowledge and an understanding of how these factors influence our health, we can make better choices.

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If you’re interested in reading a little more, take a look at this Choice review of BPA in Aussie canned foods.

Festive season tip #1 Drink water

The festive season is upon us! Hurrah!

How are you feeling?

In the celebratory swing? Staying healthy(ish) through it all? Hope so.

Last week one of my neighbours commented on how hard he’s finding it to keep up with all the Christmas events: work functions, social catch-ups and family parties. He’s enjoying the fun of these festivities, but also finding them taxing on his energy and a challenge for his liver! I’m sure he’s not alone…

There is a LOT of information out there on how to keep well through the Christmas and New Year period. This in itself can be overwhelming. Last year I wrote down some ideas on how to best manage the season, intended as a general guide on easy at-home management. For those interested, however, I’d like to give you some more detail on the whys and hows for avoiding festive season fallout.

TOP TIP #1

Drink water

Hydration is an incredibly important factor in good health. Honestly.

If you don’t drink enough fluids (namely, water) you will be dehydrated. If you’re dehydrated, your body won’t work quite as well as it should and you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:image via pinterest

  • Thirst (it seems obvious, but I can’t not mention it)
  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint and/or light-headed
  • Irritability
  • Poor cognition (i.e. ‘fuzzy head’)
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger (that’s right, sometimes a glass of water is all you need!)

Hydration is even more important over the festive season as not only is the weather warm (meaning we lose water through sweat) it is also a time where there tends to be a larger than average consumption of alcohol, fizzy drinks and rich foods.

Delicious, maybe. Good for you, not so much.

Drinking water helps our bodies to flush out the extra load of sugar, alcohol, fat and additives we consume during this time. Without it, we place our bodies under significant strain and often end up feeling generally unwell by the season’s end.

Many people tell me they find it difficult to drink plain water – finding it boring or unpalatable. While I can’t do much about your perception of water, I can suggest ways to make it more interesting and therefore easier to drink:

  • image via pinterestAdd a squeeze of lemon, a wedge of lime, or a small handful of frozen berries to your glass or bottle
  • Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices – diluted or straight – are lovely on a hot day and will contribute to your fluid intake
  • Choose a wine spritzer (half wine half mineral water) rather than a straight glass of Chardy
  • Also aim to intersperse alcoholic drinks with at least 1 glass of still or sparkling water
  • Have a pot of herbal tea (such as rosehip, lemongrass or rooibos) in the fridge and sup on that when you’re thirsty (this has the added benefit of exerting a therapeutic effect, as well as helping to keep you hydrated)

Remember too that fluid doesn’t just come from what you drink. Foods can also contribute to your hydration, particularly soups and stews, smoothies, fresh fruits and – perfect for this time of year – salads full of leafy greens. Get amongst it.

Tomorrow’s festive season tip #2 Digest your food

Sugar addiction. Stop it.

Too many people eat too much sugar.  It’s  a real problem. While some is good, a lot is not. No way.

Sugar over-consumption plays havoc with energy, metabolism, mood, hormones, digestion, and much more..

The problem is that we tend to get addicted – both to the physiological effect of sugar (as in the immediate effect on blood glucose levels) as well as the psychological component of allowing ourselves these treats and sweeteners. Life is sweet enough my friends!

In the clinic, I often talk to people who have way too much sugar every day – via sweetened drinks, refined foods, alcohol, and spoonfuls of sugar or sweeteners with every meal.

For most people, total elimination is unrealistic – trying to cut out everything is far too hard and will never succeed. However, a gradual and conscious reduction is very easy and, importantly, sustainable.

Here are some of my key tips:

1. Focus on eating complex carbohydrates and consuming simple sugars through fresh fruit and veggies.

With main meals, keep the major carbohydrates (e.g. rice, pasta, grains) as a small serving, filling up the main part of the meal with vegetables, alongside a quality source of protein (e.g. tofu, eggs, fish, lean meat, etc).

Also avoid, as much as possible, refined flour products – such as white or processed breads, cakes, biscuits, muffins, muesli bars, etc.

This means cutting down on:
  • Sugar – white, brown, all of it.
  • Honey – it’s ok as an occasional sweetener, but not all the time.
  • White breads / flours – and any associated products (e.g. cakes, biscuits, muffins).
  • Fizzy drinks – and don’t even think about drinking those diet options.
  • Sweetened and fortified juices – fresh juiced is fine, but reconstituted is not.
  • Alcohol.
The carbohydrate foods to keep up in a balanced diet include:
  • Rice – brown, red or basmati (around 1/2 – 1 cup, cooked)
  • Pasta – buckwheat / wholegrain / corn / rice /etc (around 1/2 – 1 cup, cooked)
  • Other staples such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and polenta – these can be used to complement a stir fry, ‘pasta’ sauce, curry, meat and vegetable meal, etc.
  • Bread (rye / spelt / gluten-free) – but not more than once per day. For example, just with breakfast or just with lunch, not with both.
  • Vegetables – no limit you hear me: no limit. Just eat that stuff right up.
  • Fruits – 1-2 serves / day is excellent, just as long as it’s in conjunction with plenty of veg (particularly leafy greens), some complex carbohydrates, sufficient protein and good quality fats.
2. Aim for a good source of protein in every meal.

Protein hits the satiety centre for longer, so your blood sugar, energy and food (sugar) cravings remain more  stable.
A decent hit of protein can be as simple as:
  • 1-2 spoonfuls of natural yoghurt
  • boiled eggs
  • a palmful of almonds or walnuts
  • tin of tuna or sardines
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup lentils or beans
  • a small amount of feta
  • a bowl of edamame
  • a small lean steak, chicken breast, or fish fillet
3. Keep up your fluids

Drink plenty of water, and herbal tea, throughout the day.
Try to avoid drinking with meals, as this can hamper digestion by diluting stomach acid – this then inhibits absorption, which means your body doesn’t get everything it needs out of a meal, which means you’ll start to get cravings for food and energy, which tends to mess with overall sugar intake.
Additionally, squeeze some lemon juice in water first thing in the morning. This isn’t really specific to sugar cravings, but it is good for digestion generally and a nice practice to get into.
4. What about baking?

If you’re that way inclined, you can still make tasty treats, but instead of sugar use xylitol. Available in health food shops, xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that tastes sweet but has much smaller impact on blood sugar levels. It has a sweeter taste than sugar so you only need around half the amount recommended in recipes (e.g. a recipe calling for 1 cup of sugar would only require 1/2 cup xylitol).
I would also recommend steering away from the refined white flour when baking,  in favour of a good quality spelt flour or gluten-free blend.
5. Chromium

Chromium plays a key role in blood glucose metabolism and can be very effective for people who get serious cravings. The dose is usually 200mcg (in tablet form) taken 2-3 times per day, with main meals.
NB: before taking anything, talk to a qualified health professional.
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