As the weather warms up, we want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. This means picnics, pool parties, and of course BBQs! We love a good barbecue because they're super fun, delicious, and a great way to cook and socialize at the same time. Plus there is less mess in the kitchen to clean up. But before you dust off your grill, check out our tips for a healthier BBQ that aren't just about what recipes to use. There are other aspects of health that go beyond just what ingredients you use.

1) Trim Fat and Clean the Grill

To start, let's think about the actual grill. Because of the open flame, grills create some smoke. And while that's sometimes the point (hello smoked salmon), directly breathing in smoke usually isn't the best idea, especially for children and people with asthma. There are some things you can do to make your grilling a little less smokey, though. If you're in the market for a new grill or if you're looking to upgrade your current one, look for a gas grill. While they're not perfect, they produce less smoke than charcoal grills.

If you have a charcoal grill (or prefer that), cut off excess fat to lower the amount of dripping and risk for flare-ups (1). Also, cleaning your grill to remove the charred, stuck-on bits before you cook is good for reducing smoke. And in general, a clean grill is better for you. You should brush or scrape your grill every time you use it, and then do a deep cleaning a few times a year, depending on how often you use it.

2) Marinate, Marinate, Marinate

Now let's get to the actual food and BBQing. Overcooking (or burning) the food raises the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) on the food (2). These chemicals are what people talk about when they say that grilling food can make it more likely to cause cancer. But we have good news- you can dramatically lower the amount of PAHs and HCAs by marinating your meat before grilling it. It doesn't have to be marinated for a very long time (even 5 minutes of marination reduces PAHs and HCAs by as much as 92%), but the longer you marinate, the more flavorful the meat will be. Some research has shown that marinades with acid or oil are better than ones high in sugar (3). Additionally, tossing in some basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, or marjoram helps to reduce HCA levels because of their antioxidant properties (4). Easy peasy, and delicious!

3) Use Real Plates or Napkins

After you are done wonderfully cooking your food, you don't want to taint it by putting the piping hot food on plates that could leach chemicals onto the food. Usually BBQs or cookouts are known for using plastic or paper plates for easy cleaning up. But, plastic plates can transfer some harmful chemicals to the food, and so can paper plates if they are made with oil- or water-resistant Teflon-like chemicals. Those water- and oil-proof property in PFAS chemicals (Teflon-like, also called 'forever chemicals'), can easily get into the food items that it touches and takes years to break down, both in your body and in the environment. The best option would be to use real ceramic plates or some of these safe outdoor dishes that you can wash after the party, or unlined paper or bamboo plates that are completely compostable without PFAS chemicals. Hey, if you are really going all out, why not just ditch the plate altogether and create less trash over all. Who really needs a plates for a hotdog and cupcakes anyway?

4) Use Mineral Sunscreen and Safer Inspect Repellent

While this is less to do with the food, sunscreen and insect repellant are often popular for outdoor summertime events. While both have some pretty good benefits, like keeping you from getting burnt or covered in bites that can lead to various illnesses, some sunscreens and insect repellents contain pretty nasty chemicals. A good option is to wear long sleeve, lightweight shirts and pants that would protect you from both insects and sun. If that's just not seeming like an option for you, check out our roundup of safer sunscreen products. When it comes to bug repellant, that is more difficult and using a product with DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 might still be your best bet. Some do find that oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is a particular active ingredient, different from lemon eucalyptus oil), can also be effective. You can read more about that in our insect repellant article.

5) Limit Plastic Decorations and Toys

The last tip relates to the decorations and activities at your BBQ. We recommend avoiding plastic and opting for reusable decorations when you can. Read more about ideas for throwing a party with less plastic. For items that are more common at a BBQ party near water, try games like corn hole or sharks and minnows. If you are more the type that likes to float around in the water, consider pool noodles instead of rafts and things. While slightly less instagramable or T-Swift inspired, foam noodles are safer than the plastic floats which are almost always made of PVC (which contains phthalates). Get creative for fun ways to play that don't require plastic toys.


References

1) Hall, McKenzie. Reduce your exposure to toxins from grilled meats. Chicago Tribune. July 2, 2014.

2) Chung SY, Yettella RR et al. Effects of grilling and roasting on the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in beef and pork. Food Chemistry. Volume 129, Issue 4, 15 December 2011, Pages 1420-1426.

3) Farhadian A, Abas F et al. Effects of marinating on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and fluoranthene) in grilled beef meat. Food Control. 28(2):420–425, December 2012.

          4) Riches, Derrick. Healthy Grilling. The Spruce. April 4, 2017. Accessed April 11, 2018.
          Food

          Is Canned Food Safe from BPA Now?

          BPA is not being used anymore, but what do we know about the new liners?

          When it’s 7pm and you haven’t thought about dinner yet, heating up a can of chunky stew or throwing a can of beans into a cheesy burrito sounds like the best idea ever. By now, you’ve probably heard about BPA in canned foods, but many cans now say “BPA-free” on them. Hurray for that, right?! Every can still needs a thin liner inside so that the food doesn’t corrode the metal from the inside out. So if they are not made with BPA, what are these new liners made of? And does it mean that canned foods are safer to eat now?

          What is BPA?

          BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that is often used in plastics to make them clear and strong. It is also in epoxy resins that can line water pipes and food cans, and is used in receipt paper (1). Although BPA is the most well-known bisphenol, there are dozens of other bisphenols (often called BPA replacements) out there that are chemically similar to BPA.

          BPA is one of the better known endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals look like and act like hormones in the body, which confuse the endocrine system and cause disruption of its normal functions. Since the endocrine system is responsible for metabolism, growth and development, reproduction, and so much more, scientists are finding out more every day about the harmful health effects of EDCs.

          BPA in Canned food

          Canned food has been around for a long time and since the 1960’s, a thin epoxy lining made with the chemical BPA has been used to protect the inside of the can from corroding. Corroding metal is not good, so a liner is definitely needed in order for canned food to have a good shelf life.

          There were two problems though. First, more and more studies piled up showing the harmful endocrine disrupting effects of BPA (2). Secondly, many studies showed that BPA moves from the can lining into the food that is eaten, and that things like acidity, heat, and fat affected how much BPA ended up being in the food (3,4). As a result, there was more and more pressure to remove BPA from can linings.

          In fact, reports have shown that there has been a decline in can linings with BPA. The Center for Environmental Health found a huge decline from 2017 to 2019 in canned foods that had BPA linings. In 2019, their tests showed that about 95% of cans tested free of BPA. In fact, the Can Manufactuer’s Institute reports that their industry statistics indicate that more than 95% of all U.S. food can production has transitioned out of BPA to alternative liners (5).

          New Canned Food Linings

          It’s clear that canned food has largely moved away from BPA, but what are they using in new can linings? That part is less clear. The new linings are made from either acrylic, polyester, non-BPA epoxies, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers, or olefin polymers. Which one depends on the manufacturer. A 2016 report by several nonprofit groups Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes in the linings of canned food notes that many of these new linings are not great alternatives. PVC is not a great substitute because it’s made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. And many of the acrylic linings include polystyrene (hello styrofoam!), which is also a possible human carcinogen. Adequate testing to ensure that these new linings are safe for food have not been done. And it’s probably no surprise that neither PVC or polystyrene are great for the environment!

          Even some of the newest liners, like olefin polymers, which are partially derived from plants, have not been completely studied for safety, many times because their formulation is not publicly available.

          Moreover, there are only a couple of companies that specify exactly which BPA free liner they have moved to. So, if you see a can with a BPA free symbol on it, you won’t know what they are using instead.

          The Bottom Line on BPA in Canned Food

          So the bottom line is that yes, canned foods are largely safe from BPA now thanks to the voices of countless consumers and health advocates. But there is more work to be done to ensure that canned foods linings that are used today are safe. Here’s what you can do to best protect your health:

          1. Write to companies and ask them what linings they use on their canned food products and ask them to show you safety data.
          2. Buy frozen produce and fruits. Food is frozen before it is packaged and frozen food packaging is generally made of safer plastics.
          3. Explore canned food alternatives such as glass jars and Tetra-paks.
          4. Shop the bulk and dry goods bins and make staples like beans from scratch. Freeze small portions in the freezer for easy accessibility in the future.


          References

          1. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm
          2. Rubin, Beverly S. "Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects." The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 127.1-2 (2011): 27-34.
          3. Sungur, Şana, Muaz Köroğlu, and Abdo Özkan. "Determinatıon of bisphenol a migrating from canned food and beverages in markets." Food chemistry 142 (2014): 87-91.
          4. Hartle, Jennifer C., Ana Navas-Acien, and Robert S. Lawrence. "The consumption of canned food and beverages and urinary Bisphenol A concentrations in NHANES 2003–2008." Environmental research 150 (2016): 375-382.
          5. https://www.cancentral.com/content/innovations-foo...
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          Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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          Roundups

          Non-Toxic Alternatives to Non-Stick Pans

          No need for Teflon to get a clean releasing pan

          Updated for 2021!

          By now, you've probably heard that Teflon and other chemicals used to make pans nonstick aren't great for your health. But, maybe that left you asking how you were supposed to get the perfectly cooked fried egg without it sticking to the pan. Look no further, we have a found a collection of pans that aren't covered in toxic chemicals that still get the perfect sear without the best parts being left stuck on the bottom of the pan. These pans are durable and will last a lifetime. If you're looking to make some delicious baked goods, check out our alternatives for non-stick baking.

          non stick pan alternative with no teflon

          a) Debuyer Elemental Iron and Carbon Steel

          b) Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Wok


          c) Made In Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan

          d) Lodge Cast Iron

          e) Staub Perfect Pan
          f) Victoria Cast Iron

          g) Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Skillet


          h) All-Clad D3 Stainless Cookware Fry Pan
          i) The Ringer (perfect for cleaning both cast iron and carbon steel)


          *Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

          Artificial food colorings are everywhere in our daily lives. They show up in lots of foods that we eat daily, like cereals, and in lots of treats like candy and baked goods. You can even find them in places you wouldn't think to look, like tomato sauce, farmed salmon, and even pickles! They are found in so many of our foods, yet we do not think much about them. So what makes up these colors that stay bright even when heated and stored for long periods of time? Keep reading if you want to know more about what artificial food colorings (also known as artificial dyes) are made of and how they affect your health!

          What are artificial food colorings and what are they made of?

          First off, if we're not making a rainbow cake, why do we even need food coloring in the first place? Well, consumers prefer that the color of their food match its flavor. Sadly, a lot (up to 70%!!) of the foods Americans consume are highly processed and end up a different color than we'd expect them to be. A gray hotdog or khaki colored candy would throw us off and probably wouldn't be as appetizing, right?

          While there are many natural food coloring options, many companies choose to go with artificial food colorings because they're cheaper. The FDA has approved seven artificial food colorings for consumption in the United States, but these colors can be mixed and matched to create many different shades. Here's the bad news: the majority of them are made out of petroleum and crude oil (1). Even though the final product is highly refined and is tested to not have any traces of petroleum, we really don't like the idea of consuming something made from crude oil!

          Are artificial food colorings bad for my health?

          The jury is still out. In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food colorings because of recent studies that found a small, but significant, negative effect of these substances on children's behavior (2). These substances were also found to be carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions, and instigate behavioral problems (3). These findings were largely controversial, and the FDA ruled that artificial food colorings could still be used in food products without the use of a warning label. But earlier this year, OEHHA published a study on the potential health effects of synthetic dyes in children and found that there is evidence that "indicates that synthetic food dyes are associated with adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children" (4). This information is not new to the European Union though. Six years ago, studies conducted by British government also found a link between adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children and artificial dyes. This prompted the British government to urge food companies to stop using artificial food dyes in their products, and for the European Union to pass a new law "requiring that any food that contained [artificial] dyes ... would have to put a warning notice on, warning consumers that the dyes might trigger hyperactivity" (5). This law effectively made artificial food coloring impossible to find in foods made and sold in the EU.

          Should you avoid artificial food colorings?

          Even though more research needs to be done to reach conclusive findings, the current evidence is not looking good for artificial food coloring. While we wait for the results of these studies, we can take proactive steps in protecting our health. It's been established that the food we consume plays a large role in our health and unhealthy, highly processed foods are some of the biggest sources of artificial food colorings. By removing these products from your diet, you can improve your overall health and reduce the amount of artificial food colorings you consume.

          What to use intsead

          However, if you find yourself baking two dozen cupcakes the night before a big bake sale or you toddler has requested a rainbow cake for their birthday and you have to use food coloring, make sure to use natural food coloring. Common natural food coloring can come from beets, carrots, saffron, turmeric, spinach, blueberries, and blackberries and do not have any negative health consequences. Plus, natural food coloring is becoming increasingly popular and they're really easy to find in stores! Here are some of our favorites:


          Plant-Based Food Color Variety Pack by Supernatural

          India Tree Nature's Colors Decorating Set

          Suncore Foods – Premium Pink Pitaya Supercolor Powder

          Suncore Foods – Premium Blue Butterfly Pea Supercolor Powder

          References

          1. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/2015-2016/october-2015/food-colorings.html
          2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441937/
          3. https://cspinet.org/resource/food-dyes-rainbow-risks
          4. https://oehha.ca.gov/risk-assessment/report/health...
          5. https://www.nhpr.org/2014-03-28/why-m-ms-are-made-...
          Food

          Easy Berry Crumb Breakfast Bars

          A healthy breakfast on the go, without any plastic wrappers!

          Whether you're headed to the office or about to drop the kids off at school, breakfast on the go is just a part of life sometimes. We've definitely explored every breakfast bar option on the grocery shelves, but wouldn't it be nice to have a breakfast bar option that didn't include plastic wrappers with ingredients that you can feel good about? Well, we have the recipe for you then! These breakfast bars (adapted from Smitten Kitchen) are gluten free, refined sugar free, and packed with oats and nuts to give you fuel for the day. These bars are kid tested and approved. In our experience they will be begging for them not only at breakfast time, but at snack time too!

          The best part is that you can bake up a batch and you'll have breakfast for the entire family for the week. Or better yet, double up the recipe and freeze a batch for an on the go option any time. We used blackberries in this recipe, but feel free to use raspberries too! You could even try figs or apples too, which would be perfect for the fall.

          Ingredients

          For the crust and the crumb topping

          • 3/4 cup oat flour*
          • ½ cup sweet rice flour
          • ¼ cup tapioca flour
          • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
          • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or honey
          • 1 ¼ cup rolled oats
          • ¾ tsp salt
          • ¾ tsp baking powder
          • ½ tsp baking soda
          • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
          • ¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
          • Optional: ½ cup of chopped almonds or pecans or walnuts

          For the berry filling

          • ¼ cup coconut sugar
          • 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
          • ½ tsp cinnamon
          • 2 Tbsp tapioca flour
          • 1 lb blackberries or raspberries
          • ¼ cup lemon juice
          1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 9" by 13" inch baking pan with parchment paper. Cut one piece of parchment paper to 9" wide and place it going the length of the pan, letting it cover the sides. Then cut another piece of parchment paper 13" wide and place it going the opposite way as the first piece, letting it go up the sides as well. Now you have a parchment paper sling that will help you remove the bars from the pan easily.
          2. Put the flours, coconut sugar, maple syrup, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Then add the butter and pulse until large and loose crumbs form. Reserve 1 ½ cups for the crumb topping and set aside.
          3. Scoop the rest of the mixture into the pan and use your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup to pack down the crust into an even layer. Bake the crust until lightly golden, about 15 minutes.
          4. In the meantime, combine the berries, coconut sugar, lemon zest, tapioca starch, cinnamon, and lemon juice into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to help burst the berries, stirring so that the mixture doesn't burn. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 5-10 minutes depending on how juicy your berries are. You want the filling to be pourable but thick.
          5. Once the crust comes out of the oven, let it cool for about 5 minutes. Spread the berry filling over the top of the crust. Mix the ½ cup of chopped nuts with the remaining 1 ½ cup crust mixture if using nuts. Then sprinkle on top of the berry filling.
          6. Bake the bars for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The filling should be bubbling and have thickened even more.
          7. Let the bars cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Then use the parchment paper sides to lift the bars out of the pan and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into portions and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
          8. If you want to freeze a batch, place the cut pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze. Then put the frozen bars into a freezer bag or container. Take a frozen piece out overnight to defrost in the fridge, or let thaw for 20 minutes on the counter. (In the summer, they also taste pretty good frozen too!)

          * Instead of the oat, sweet rice, and tapioca flours, you can substitute 1 ½ cup gluten free flour or all purpose flour.

          Food

          Summer BBQ Essentials

          Don't break out the grill without these non-toxic finds!

          Summer isn't complete without at least one BBQ! They're the ultimate excuse to get together with friends, enjoy the nice weather, and cook delicious food (even if you're doing meat-free Monday). If you're new to the BBQ scene, then you might not realize that an outdoor get-together can require some specialized gear. Standard BBQ gear can be made from harmful materials like melamine, plastic, and PFAS, which is why we wanted to find alternative products that were safer for our health. Our summer BBQ essentials roundup has everything you need and more to throw the best party ever! And don't forget to check out our tips for a non-toxic BBQ!


          Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold

          Stainless Steel Grill Basket

          Glass Beverage Dispenser

          Cast Iron Griddle Pan

          Carbon Steel Grill Frying Pan

          Moscow Mule Mugs

          Enamelware with seafood pattern

          Grill tools

          Stainless steel Citrus Press Juicer

          If you've been looking for some more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives, chances are, you might have stumbled across this thing called beeswax wrap. It can be used to wrap sandwiches and salad, that half-eaten avocado, even leftovers from wine and cheese night! Maybe the cute patterns first caught your eye, or maybe you saw it on Instagram. Whatever the reason, we're going to share everything you need to know about this reusable alternative to plastic wrap.

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          Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
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