What is BPA and why should you care?

by Jen Palmer
Certified Dietary Manager/Certified Food Protection Professional at
Veterans Memorial Hospital

(Question submitted by Waukon resident)

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a synthetic estrogen used in making many plastic products.  It is also part of the epoxy resin that lines many metal cans, like those used for canned soups, vegetables, fruits and meats.

In the past decade, there has been growing consumer awareness about the health risks that BPA can pose. For example; BPA is an endocrine disruptor – which, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is “a chemical that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.” It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, prostate cancer, brain function, breast cancer, diabetes, and ADHD. Though it has been found in air, water and dust, humans are primarily exposed to BPA through foods and drinks stored in containers that contain it.

BPA is widely used and can be hiding in places you wouldn’t expect. For example; plastic containers, water bottles, inside the lining of canned foods, receipts, plastic wrap, soda and beer cans, microwave popcorn bags, plastic coffee makers, and Keurig pods.

Some simple ways to avoid  BPA:
1. Opt for glass or stainless steel water bottles. Mason jars are a good option. If you must use plastic bottles, avoid those marked with #7 on the bottom.
2. Choose fresh or frozen foods most of the time. Canned and packaged foods limit to include canned tomatoes, meats, soups and microwave popcorn.
3. Did you know plastic grocery bags never break down in nature? Bring your own reusable shopping bags and be sure to recycle plastic ones that you can’t avoid using. Grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling.
4. Store food in glass or ceramic containers. Most important; avoid storing liquids in plastic with #5 or #7 on the bottom.
5. Choose not to microwave plastic or Styrofoam. Cover dishes with a paper towel or plate when reheating.This article isn’t meant to scare you—only to inform you of better choices to protect your health. It may seem daunting at first, and some of you may be tempted to “start fresh” by throwing out all your plastic containers. There’s no need. Use what you have, but be smart about it. Once you become aware of how much plastic you use every day, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to reduce the BPA in your life.

Here are some useful resources to check out:
• National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:  www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/ Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org/bpa
• Helpful Tips to Use Less Plastic: www.myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide
• Plastic Pollution Coalition with Jeff Bridges; Informational Video: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2016/3/9/jeff-bridges.