Convenience without sacrificing health!
Having some staples in your pantry is always a good idea for last minute dinners. Plus, the pandemic has made us want to limit grocery trips as much as possible. But a lot of typical pantry items usually come in plastic containers or cans, which can contain chemicals that are harmful to health. Luckily many pantry items now come in improved packaging that's healthier and safer shelf stable!
But wait, what's the problem with cans or plastic? Most canned food is lined with BPA so that the food doesn't react with the metal of the can, but it can end up seeping into the food. That means that when we are eating canned foods, we are also eating low doses of BPA, a chemical that has been linked to numerous health issues like cancers, brain and behavioral problems, reduced sperm production, infertility, diabetes and obesity, and heart disease. Maybe not the best. (Read more about why repeated low doses are no good).
Similar issues are true for foods packed in plastic bags (think rice, pasta, and nuts). Some plastic bags have phthalates, which mess with your hormones. Additionally, some food packaging materials have chemicals like PFAS. This makes them oil and water resistant (meaning the food won't break down the packaging) but PFAS can be absorbed by the food inside too. All of these chemicals can cause issues like infertility, weight gain, and cancers.
Better Packaging Options
We recommend glass containers, cartons (like Tetra Paks), or paper whenever possible. For pantry staples like oils, sauces, and jellies, look for products in glass jars. Glass jars are pretty common and not significantly different in cost than products in plastic containers. It's just a matter of knowing to search for them.Paper boxes have also come a long way recently! Try looking for things like rice, oats and pasta in boxes instead of plastic bags. Some have small plastic windows so you can see what's inside. This isn't ideal, but a small amount of plastic is much better than the entire package being made of it.
Cartons need a little more explaining. They're those shiny papery boxes that look like giant juice boxes. Cartons are made from layers of paperboard and polyethylene, and also sometimes also include aluminum. While cartons do contain some plastic, they use less of the material than traditional packaging and polyethylene is considered to be less harmful to health than other plastics.
Cartons are becoming easier to find. More and more options are starting to come in these boxes including tomatoes, beans, milk, and even chunky soups. Both mom-and-pop groceries and big box stores often have pantry staples in these nifty little containers!
While cartons have been shown to be a healthy alternative in terms of containing fewer chemicals, we do recognize that they may be difficult to dispose of. While cartons can theoretically be recycled, it requires special machinery that some waste management facilities don't have. Before making any new purchases, you can check if cartons are recyclable in your zip code.
If you're having a tough time finding exactly what you want in carton or glass jars, consider looking in the bulk section or the frozen foods section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great budget friendly option and don't absorb anywhere near as many chemicals from the packaging as canned options do. They are just as easy to use for last minute meals, and often times an economical way to buy organic. Our favorites are things like spinach, corn, peas, and any and all types of fruit.
As you start to notice these options more often as you stroll the aisles, hopefully you will start to see a change in what you store on your shelves, too.