Food

Why Food Packaging, Kitchen Equipment, and Food Storage Should be Important Components of a Healthy Diet

Eating Healthy is More than Just Healthy Ingredients!

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.

Scientists have shown that chemicals from materials that come into contact with food can migrate into the food under certain conditions [1, 2] and are a source of exposure for harmful chemicals. A recent study found that there are over 12,000 food contact chemicals in use worldwide and identified 608 potentially hazardous substances that urgently need to be further evaluated, whilst many others lack thorough toxicological evaluation [3].

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) and the Endocrine Society have pointed to food contamination through processing, packaging, cooking, and storing as an important health issue. The AAP issued a policy statement saying that “scientific evidence suggests potential adverse effects on children’s health from synthetic chemicals used as food additives… (including) those used in materials that may contaminate food as part of packaging or manufacturing [4].” Moreover, the Endocrine Society specifically points to food contact materials as a source of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) like BPA, phthalates, and PFAS and reports that the “possibility that low level environmental exposure may still have significant and/or long-term biological impact.” [5]

If the object of healthy eating is long term wellness and prevention, then it is important to include the materials that come into contact with food. Here are 3 areas that should be incorporated into the definition of healthy eating.

1) Avoid processed foods because of contamination during processing and packaging

While healthy eating generally discourages processed foods because they lack nutrients, processed foods should also be avoided because of contamination with harmful chemicals from packaging and during processing. Several studies show that switching to a fresh food diet was associated with lower urinary concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites and BPA (6, 7, 8, 9). BPA is found in the lining of canned foods and in other hard, clear, polycarbonate plastics and has been shown to leach into food (10). BPA is one of the most studied and well-known endocrine disrupting chemicals. More than a hundred epidemiological studies and hundreds of animal studies have been published showing associations between BPA and health effects, including brain development, abnormal neurobehaviors, adverse reproductive health outcomes, and metabolic diseases, and disrupted immune responses (11, 12, 13).

Phthalates are another endocrine disrupting chemical that are commonly found in food packaging and in equipment used to process food. Phthalates have been shown to reduce both testosterone and estrogen levels, block thyroid hormones (5), and some studies have shown they are reproductive toxicants (14).

Recently, more attention has been turned to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of synthetic chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. Several studies have shown that PFAS chemicals are used in greaseproof applications, such as pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, and takeout containers and paper food wraps (15,16). PFAS chemicals are known to bioaccumulate and build up in the body, and have relatively long half-lives of 3-5 years, so there is much concern. Many PFAS chemicals are endocrine disrupting chemicals and studies have shown strong associations between certain types of PFAS chemicals and cancers (5).

Since processed foods are contaminated with BPA, phthalates, and PFAS through processing and packaging, clinicians should advise patients and clients to reduce consumption, even if the processed foods contain healthier ingredients.

2) Use stainless steel, cast iron, carbon steel, glass, and enamel cookware and bakeware.

Nonstick cookware and bakeware are ubiquitous in the home. While PFOA (a specific PFAS chemical) has been largely phased out, other similar PFAS chemicals, including Teflon (PTFE) are used in nonstick coatings on cookware and bakeware (17). Nonstick coatings like PTFE break down and release hazardous chemicals, when heated to high temperatures above 400 F, which are common during baking and high heat cooking (18, 19). There is also some concern that small particles can be ingested when nonstick coatings are scratched and flake off, contaminating food (20).

In recent years, silicone rubbers have also been used in items that come into direct contact with food, such as baking molds. Scientists have shown that different substances may migrate into food from silicone, but there are not comprehensive toxicological assessments (21).

In order to reduce food contamination from cookware and bakeware, stainless steel, cast iron, carbon steel, glass, and enameled cookware and bakeware should be used to cook food. Dieticians, nutritionists, and clinicians should embrace healthy cookware and bakeware as an essential component of healthy eating. Patients and clients may not need to purchase new cookware, especially where cost is a concern. Community thrift stores, freecycle/buy nothing networks and town swaps may all be used as resources for acquiring healthier cookware, in addition to big box stores and online retailers which stock many of these items at reasonable prices.

3) Use glass, stainless steel, and ceramic food and drink storage containers

Similar to the issues mentioned above, food storage containers can be a source of food contamination, especially with foods that are hot, fatty and acidic. BPA is commonly found in plastic food storage containers, and even plastic containers labeled as BPA-free are not necessarily safe. They may contain similar chemicals without clear safety data, a phenomenon known as regrettable substitution (22). Choosing glass, stainless steel, and ceramic food storage containers is a good way to ensure that healthy food is not contaminated during storage.

Water bottles can also be a source of exposure to chemicals like BPA. A study showed that regular consumption of cold beverages from reusable plastic water bottles substantially increases urinary BPA concentrations (23). Thus choosing a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle should also be advised. For those who already own an array of plastic food containers and water bottles, clients/patients may ask how to dispose of these responsibly. They can be recycled where appropriate, repurposed for home organization, and/or donated to a community center or school for science or craft projects.

Our definition of healthy eating needs to go beyond just ingredients! Healthy eating should mean limiting food contamination through processed foods, cookware, and food storage. Any definition of healthy eating should incorporate limiting harmful chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and PFAS from contaminating food.


References

  1. Arvanitoyannis, Ioannis S., and Loulouda Bosnea. "Migration of substances from food packaging materials to foods." Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 44.2 (2004): 63-76.
  2. Fasano, Evelina, et al. "Migration of phthalates, alkylphenols, bisphenol A and di (2-ethylhexyl) adipate from food packaging." Food Control 27.1 (2012): 132-138.
  3. Groh, Ksenia J., et al. "Overview of intentionally used food contact chemicals and their hazards." Environment International (2020): 106225.
  4. Trasande, Leonardo, Rachel M. Shaffer, and Sheela Sathyanarayana. "Food additives and child health." Pediatrics 142.2 (2018).
  5. Flaws, Jodi, et al. "Plastics, EDCs and Health." Washington DC: Endocrine Society (2020).
  6. Correia-Sá, Luísa, et al. "Obesity or diet? Levels and determinants of phthalate body burden–a case study on Portuguese children." International journal of hygiene and environmental health 221.3 (2018): 519-530.
  7. Rudel, Ruthann A., et al. "Food packaging and bisphenol A and bis (2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: findings from a dietary intervention." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 914-920.
  8. Serrano, Samantha E., et al. "Phthalates and diet: a review of the food monitoring and epidemiology data." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 1-14.
  9. Peng, Chiung-Yu, et al. "Canned food intake and urinary bisphenol a concentrations: a randomized crossover intervention study." Environmental Science and Pollution Research 26.27 (2019): 27999-28009.
  10. Schecter, Arnold, et al. "Bisphenol a (BPA) in US food." Environmental science & technology 44.24 (2010): 9425-9430.
  11. Vandenberg LN, Ehrlich S, Belcher SM, Ben-Jonathan N, Dolinoy DC, Hugo ER, Hunt PA, Newbold RR, Rubin BS, Salli KS, Soto AM, Wang H-S, vom Saal FS. Low dose effects of Bisphenol A: An integrated review of in vitro, laboratory animal and epidemiology studies. Endocrine Disruptors. 2013;1:e26490.
  12. Gore AC, Chappell VA, Fenton SE, Flaws JA, Nadal A, Prins GS, Toppari J, Zoeller RT. EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocr Rev. 2015;36(6):E1-150.
  13. Rochester, Johanna R. "Bisphenol A and human health: a review of the literature." Reproductive toxicology 42 (2013): 132-155.
  14. Kay VR, Chambers C, Foster WG. Reproductive and developmental effects of phthalate diesters in females. Critical reviews in toxicology. 2013;43(3):200-219.
  15. Schaider, Laurel A., et al. "Fluorinated compounds in US fast food packaging." Environmental science & technology letters 4.3 (2017): 105-111
  16. Susmann, Herbert P., et al. "Dietary habits related to food packaging and population exposure to PFASs." Environmental health perspectives 127.10 (2019): 107003.
  17. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/pages/what’s-cooking
  18. Schlummer, Martin et al. “Emission of perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCA) from heated surfaces made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) applied in food contact materials and consumer products.” Chemosphere vol. 129 (2015): 46-53.
  19. Sinclair, et al. “Quantitation of gas-phase perfluoroalkyl surfactants and fluorotelomer alcohols released from nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags.” Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Feb 15;41(4):1180-5.
  20. Lohmann, Rainer, et al. "Are fluoropolymers really of low concern for human and environmental health and separate from other PFAS?." Environmental Science & Technology54.20 (2020): 12820-12828.
  21. https://www.foodpackagingforum.org/food-packaging-health/silicones
  22. Trasande, Leonardo. "Exploring regrettable substitution: replacements for bisphenol A." The Lancet Planetary Health 1.3 (2017): e88-e89.
  23. Carwile, Jenny L., et al. "Polycarbonate bottle use and urinary bisphenol A concentrations." Environmental health perspectives 117.9 (2009): 1368-1372.
Roundups

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*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.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

Keep Reading Show Less
Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
Keep Reading Show Less

We've been spending so much time in our homes these last two years, which is why the products we chose for our gift guide for the home are the best of the best. From super cute home decor like a Peace Vase to more practical gifts (a Cordless Vacuum), our top picks will elevate your home.

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

non-toxic sustainable at home gift guide 2021


$: Under $50

Defunkify Stain Remover Spray, Free & Clear (Climate Neutral)

Never worry about stinky fabric again with this Defunkify odor removing spray! This EPA Safer choice certified spray is perfect for getting stains and odors out of laundry, carpets, and couches without harmful chemicals.

Nopalera Flor de Mayo Cactus Soap (BIPOC Brand)

Nopalera's Flor de Mayo cactus soap contains skin-loving plant butters and oils, and you'll love the subtle jasmine scent! No synthetic fragrances, palm oil free, and vegan.

Follian Lemongrass Soap

Lemongrass hand soap from Follian looks great on any countertop and also smells amazing! This non-toxic formulation is perfectly safe to use for everyone and you can get refillable containers to cut down on plastic.

The Sill Succulent Assortment (BIPOC Brand)

This succulent assortment from The Sill is the perfect way to brighten up a windowsill. Needing watering only every 2-3 weeks, these succulents are easy enough for just about anyone on your list.

Guppy Washing Bag

Protect the environment against microplastic fibers from synthetic fabrics with this Guppy wash bag! This is perfect for your eco-friendly friend who is looking for every possible thing they can do to save the planet.

Greentree Home Josee Pine Cone Candles

These jumbo pine cone candles are so festive. They come in a beautiful gift box and will fit in on any mantel or shelf. These candles are hand poured 100% beeswax and burn for 50 hours. Beeswax candles burn cleaner than paraffin wax (which is a petroleum product) so you can feel good about this gift in more ways than one!

$ $: Between $50-100

Branch Basics set

Up your cleaning game with a Branch Basics cleaning set! Their non-toxic formula is tough on dirt but not your health. We swear by this cleaning concentrate from counter to floors and even laundry!

Peace Vase by Justina Blakeney™ (BIPOC Brand)

Give peace a chance with this fun ceramic vase from Jungalow! It looks great by itself or filled with dried flowers.

Tushy Bidet (BIPOC Brand)

Why are we including a bidet in our gift guide? Because it'll change your life and save trees! If everyone in America used a bidet, we could save 15 million trees a year... and that doesn't even get into the loads of bleach and water used during toilet paper manufacturing.

AAKS Floor Basket (BIPOC Brand)

This straw storage basket comes in many vibrant colors and looks great in any room! Using traditional weaving techniques and locally-harvest raffia, these baskets are handmade in northern Ghana.

$ $ $: Over $100

Original Favorites Sweatpants and Sweatshirt

Loungewear is having a moment, so why not upgrade to these cozy sweats that are made in a wind mill powered, Fair Trade Certified facility? The cotton is certified GOTS organic and comes in 15 fun colors.

Blueair Air Purifier

Air purifiers are basically a must-have at this point. Whether it's for wildfire smoke, dust, or allergies, we love this Blueair air purifier because of it's sleek look and it's power to effectively clean the air!

Coyuchi Tahoe Climate Beneficial Wool Throw

We love that Coyuchi uses 100% Climate Beneficial wool sourced from a ranch in northern California for this cozy wool blanket. Anyone on your list would love this throw blanket.

Tantuvi Rug (BIPOC Brand)

This 100% flatweave cotton rug is hand-dyed and hand-loomed in India and comes in many different sizes. The founder works directly with artisans to produce these beautiful modern designs. We love their emphasis on sustainability, community, and equity.

Suvin Organic Sheets (Climate Neutral)

You'll feel like royalty sleeping on these Suvin organic sheets from Avocado! Made from GOTS certified organic cotton, they come in an impressive 600 or 1,000 thread count. This is a sheet set worth gifting. Bonus that they are Made Safe and Climate Neutral certified.

Dyson V11 Cordless Vacuum

This Dyson V11 vacuum is definitely a splurge, but it's powerful suction and cordless feature make it a great gift. More frequent vacuuming is always recommended and we love products that make it easier to do.

Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL