There is increasing evidence that some of the preservatives, packaging and food coloring in America’s food may be harmful to kids’ physical and mental health. Also, putting plastic in the microwave and dishwasher may cause plastic to leach chemicals into your food.
In a 2018 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), I learned the following:
The United States allows the use of more than 10,000 additives to preserve, package, or modify the taste, appearance, texture, or nutrients in foods. Many were grandfathered in for approval during the 1950s, and roughly 1,000 additives are used under a “Generally Recognized as Safe” designation process that doesn’t require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Ten thousand additives? Honestly, I think this is shocking. The report goes on to state that there are more and more studies being conducted that point to food additives “[interfering] that suggest with a child’s hormones, growth, and development…some may also increase the risk of childhood obesity, rates of which have tripled since the 1970s.”
Here are the cautions against certain additives laid out in the article:
- Bisphenols (such as BPA). This chemical is used to harden plastic containers and line some metal cans. It mimics estrogen in the body, which can affect puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat, and affect the nervous and immune systems. Apparently BPA is now banned in baby bottles and sippy cups.
- Phthalates. This chemical makes the plastic and vinyl tubes commonly used in industrial food production flexible. Phthalates may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of some phthalates in teething rings, etc. in 2017.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs). These are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging and may reduce immunity, birth weight, and fertility. It doesn’t stop there: there is research linking PFCs to changes in the thyroid system, metabolism, digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone strength.
- Perchlorate. This is added to some dry food packaging to control static electricity and can disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.
- Artificial food colors. These may be associated with increased attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies cited in the report found that a significant percentage of kids who cut artificial food colorings from their diets had decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Nitrates/nitrites. These chemicals are largely found cured and processed meats, and can interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen in the body. Nitrates and nitrites also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.
Since kids eat and drink more and are still developing, the AAP cautions that the effects of food additives can be more harmful. The AAP Council on Environmental Health is working to better understand, re-test and regulate the additives available in the United States. But some of this will need congressional approval to get the FDA to review existing additives.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to keep your kids from eating too many mystery chemicals:
- Buy and cook real food. Replace packaged snacks with fresh fruits and vegetables, and cut back on processed meats and frozen foods.
- Stop microwaving plastic, or even putting it in the dishwasher. The report says that intense heat can cause plastics to leach BPA and phthalates into food. Try to replace your plastic ware with glass. Don’t microwave plastic bottles and food storage containers. Try to hand-wash plastic dishes, especially children’s dishes.
- Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.” You can find these numbers on the packaging or on the underside of the dish.
- Most conventional fruits and vegetables are treated with chemical pesticides, so wash them thoroughly if they can’t be peeled.
If this seems daunting, involve your kids in the cooking process. You’d be surprised by how satisfying it can be for a child or tween to peel and cut up fruits and vegetables. Besides, it can be quality time for you and your children. Good luck, parents!