Which Plastics are Harmful?

Which Plastics are Harmful?
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How to choose the “numbers” of plastic that are probably safest.

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The lining of food cans—like cans of beans—can contain a chemical called BPA, otherwise most commonly found in polycarbonate plastics. There is a battle raging in North America about the safety of BPA. Last year, Canada decided to start banning it as a toxic chemical, whereas the U.S. FDA said the stuff was completely fine. Who to believe? The science. Always.

Are the Canadians right? Or is this one thing the Bush administration’s science policy got right?
There are about a dozen new studies I could put up, but this is the one probably getting the most attention, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, linking BPA levels to heart disease, diabetes, and liver inflammation.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to stay away from the stuff. The general rule is to stay away from number 3, and hard, clear number 7s. Numbers 2 and 5 are probably the safest—high density polyethylene and polypropylene.

But you don’t want to microwave even “microwave-safe” plastic, and I would encourage people to move to glass Tupperware®, and glass or stainless steel water bottles.

BPA is used in the lining of food cans, but thankfully, very little seems to leach into the food—even from acidic foods, like canned tomatoes. There are BPA-free canned foods on the market now, like the ones used by Eden Foods, but the benefits of eating any kind of beans far, far outweigh any risks. Remember, bean consumption means reduced blood pressure, lower body weight, and a slimmer waist.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

The lining of food cans—like cans of beans—can contain a chemical called BPA, otherwise most commonly found in polycarbonate plastics. There is a battle raging in North America about the safety of BPA. Last year, Canada decided to start banning it as a toxic chemical, whereas the U.S. FDA said the stuff was completely fine. Who to believe? The science. Always.

Are the Canadians right? Or is this one thing the Bush administration’s science policy got right?
There are about a dozen new studies I could put up, but this is the one probably getting the most attention, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, linking BPA levels to heart disease, diabetes, and liver inflammation.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to stay away from the stuff. The general rule is to stay away from number 3, and hard, clear number 7s. Numbers 2 and 5 are probably the safest—high density polyethylene and polypropylene.

But you don’t want to microwave even “microwave-safe” plastic, and I would encourage people to move to glass Tupperware®, and glass or stainless steel water bottles.

BPA is used in the lining of food cans, but thankfully, very little seems to leach into the food—even from acidic foods, like canned tomatoes. There are BPA-free canned foods on the market now, like the ones used by Eden Foods, but the benefits of eating any kind of beans far, far outweigh any risks. Remember, bean consumption means reduced blood pressure, lower body weight, and a slimmer waist.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Doctor's Note

For more on the health risks associated with chemicals found in plastics, check out:
BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction
Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors

Despite the risks of BPA in the linings of canned beans, the benefits are worth it. Check out:
Increased Lifespan From Beans
Beans and the Second Meal Effect
Beans, Beans, They’e Good For Your Heart

And check out my other videos on industrial toxins

For more context, also see my associated blog posts: Pollutants in Californian Breast TissueDo Eden Beans Have Too Much Iodine? and Soy milk: shake it up!

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

32 responses to “Which Plastics are Harmful?

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    1. wonder how microwaves can release chemicals from plastics also would like to see data on how microwave act on foods

  1. PUR says that their water filters are BPA free, but that their pitchers are made with #7 plastic (“an acrylic-based polymer”), #6 for their lids, and their filters from #5. All of this according to this web site:
    http://thisgreenblog.com/2009/10/are-brita-and-pur-water-pitchers-bpa.html

    But the video says #3 and #7 are the plastics to stay away from. So is PUR making this up, or is their #7 plastic O. K. in this case? (I notice that the label for #7 is “other” suggesting a catch-all category.) I don’t want to put BPA in my filtered water!

  2. Ok, I know that drinking alcohol is not the healthiest thing you can do for your body. However – if I do want to buy a bottle of rum or whatever for a party, I have noticed that many manufacturers are actually making hard liquor bottles out of plastic these days, probably because it is cheaper. Since alcohol is actually a solvent, are the bottles safe? Also, how long can you store them?

  3. You are becoming more aware of better things to incorporate into your life, that’s very responsible of you. Warnings have been given about the damage UV light, heat, and freezing can do on the cellular make-up of plastic containers, which in turn can harm those who drink from these containers. Since you can never know how the plastic bottles have been treated before purchase, it’s best to go for the glass bottled variety. By the way, do drink responsibly for everyone’s sake! Here’s a great clip on eating vs. drinking Concord grapes to block DNA breaks!
    http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/repairing-dna-damage/

  4. I wish you had links to the studies. My dad thinks the whole BPA issue is a hoax (and human-caused climate change, too, if you can believe it). But, he claims to be a scientist, so putting a few good studies in his hands would help. Oh, he also doesn’t think there is an obesity epidemic in America.

    1. Not sure if there’s any talking sense to a climate skeptic, but there are more than 1,000 free scientific articles on bisphenol A accessible through PubMed Central (PMC). Unlike straight PubMed, PMC only indexes articles that are free and open to the public (2 million to date!).

      Probably the most interesting study published this year on the topic was “Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved,” which found endocrine disrupting chemicals even in “BPA-free” plastics based on the in-vitro effects on estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells. In some cases, BPA-free products released even more chemicals having estrogenic effects than BPA-containing plastic products. The good news is that a new study found that one could dramatically reduce one’s exposure of these both BPA (and “penis-shrinking” pthalates) by choosing more fresh, unpackaged foods.

  5. Hi Dr. Greger 
    I am wondering about the safety of plastic water bottles like that you would find at the grocery store. 

    Thanks 

    1.  As Dr. Greger points out it is best to go to stainless steel or glass water bottles. This video deals with BPA one of only thousands of manmade chemicals we introduce into the environment. These include flame retardants… see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/flame-retardant-chemical-contamination-2/ and phthlates (used to make plastic softer and more flexible in products such as IV tubing, baby toys) see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/chicken-consumption-and-the-feminization-of-male-genitalia/. From an environmental stand point plastics are a persistent pollutant and are responsible for large areas of plastic “islands” in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean… TED.com presentation Capt Charles Moore on the seas of plastic. It is difficult to “prove” that something is unsafe. The best approach is to avoid exposure as much as possible. 

  6. What about “boil in the bag” products?  They have no number on them.  Can you boil in plastic safely? Or, microwave rice?  It comes in a plastic bag. Should it be removed from the bag and heated in a bowl? 

    1. NO, you can’t boil food in plastic bags “safely” – don’t buy food in plastic bags to begin with! Microwaving changes protein for the worse. Get serious and take control of your intake. Square the curve!

  7. Hello Dr. Greger. I am a vegetarian since a few months, and several people tell me that because my blood type is O+, then the vegetarianism is not for me. Is there any relation between blood type and suggested diet?

  8. On the topic of packaging, as far as I understand Tetra Paks (the packaging for the oat milk we buy and many products) have a layer of aluminum then plastic. I like the convenience, but I’m a bit concerned that the liquid is in contact with the plastic (and an article or two said the aluminum, somehow) and there may be leaching. We use these Tetra Pak plant based milks daily for cereal and sometimes in recipes. Is it enough of a concern to merit making our own plant based milks?

    My other question is about aluminum cans. We use BPA free canned beans for ease. I’m glad it’s BPA free, but what about the aluminum getting into our food and increased risk of disease like Alzheimer’s?

  9. On the topic of packaging, as far as I understand Tetra Paks (the packaging for the oat milk we buy and many plant milks) have a layer of aluminum then plastic. I like the convenience, but I’m a bit concerned that the liquid is in contact with the plastic and there may be leaching. Is it enough of a concern to merit making our own plant based milks?

  10. I’m wondering about your thoughts and research on non-stick coatings and health effects.

    I got rid of all of my non-stick cookware a few years ago because I was concerned. I’ve been oil free at home, but am really wanting to make pancakes and waffles occasionally. I’m wanting to know if some coatings are better than others or if it is just not a good choice to use any non-stick cookware even if just for occasional use.

  11. Doctor, what about plastic kettles?

    Is it likely that the hot water causes even more chemicals to leach out of the plastic and into the water?

    I’ve used one for years, which I now regret.

  12. In March 2014, a blinded study was published, of men attending a urology clinic compared urinary BPA levels between men with prostate cancer, vs. controls from the same clinic. The level was four fold higher in those with prostate cancer. When they looked at prostate cancer in men under the age of 65 (which tends to be more aggressive), there was an eight fold difference!

    The author of the study was interviewed on the radio program ‘On Point’ last night (toward the end). Here’s a link to the show: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/03/06/plastic-health-safety-bpa. (The first part of the show was an excellent discussion of endocrine disrupters in BPA-FREE plastics!!!)

    Here’s a link to the peer-reviewed publication: (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0090332). But the interview is more informative.

    I’m a physician and I’m now thinking that *no* plastics are safe. I’m sure it’s true, though, that most exposure comes from eating animal products and fish, as Dr. Gregor points out.

    Joe Adams, M.D.

    Towson, Maryland

    1. Dr Adams: Thanks for your good post.

      I’ve also heard that no plastics are safe when it comes to talking about endocrine disrupters, but I was wondering if you have any knowledge of the following: I was generally under the impression that storing food in plastic is relatively safe as long as one is not heating the food. Does that ring true to you?

      Here’s why I ask: While I don’t store food in plastic myself, I’m seeing more and more products in the store convert from glass to plastic. For example, a couple of the nut butter brands that I like are now selling in plastic containers. I’m trying to figure out how much exposure I might get from that sort of thing – something that would be stored at room temperature or even the fridge.

      Thanks again for your post.

      1. Thea, I don’t have any independent knowledge, but I recall that the Mother Jones article noted that plastics do not necessarily need to be heated in any way in order to release harmful chemicals (unfortunately).

        I’m not sure what to do with all my own plastic containers. I’m gradually replacing them with Pyrex basically. (I freeze a lot of stuff, and ordinary glass jars occasionally break in the freezer). I’m sure that if you stored food relatively briefly in the fridge, in plastic, it would be much better.

        – Dr. Joe

        1. Thanks for the reply Dr. Joe. And for the link! I don’t store food at my house in plastic, but I have still been buying the food that comes in plastic containers. This is definitely something to think about. :-(

          Thanks!

    1. Hi Youcef,

      I think overall it is best to play it safe since it is not always easy to tell the quality of the plastic you are purchasing, even if it is microwave safe as evidenced by this study. Remember, microwaving food can be one of the best ways to preserve antioxidants, but I agree with Dr. Gregor when opting to play it safe and going with glass rather than risking some exposure with random plastic. :-)

  13. Could you comment about microwave cooking and how it affect the quality of foods? Do the microwaves destroy vitamins? Phytonutrients? Is there any danger (aside from the BPA issue) to one’s health using the microwave as many internet sites claim?

    1. Charlie: I love this question, because there are few topics that I feel have such a clear and easy answer.

      Dr. Greger has covered microwave cooking in a few videos. I recommend you start with the one that says, “The Best Cooking Method”. I think that will answer your question best concerning vitamins and phytonutrients.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=microwave

      And if you are at all concerned about microwave cooking or alarmed about the stories circulating on the internet, check out this awesome article which busts all the microwave myths:
      http://www.drmyattswellnessclub.com/Microwave.htm

      Microwaves are great time savers and can make food healthier in ways not covered by Dr. Greger’s video above. For example, I often use the microwave to cook foods that I would otherwise saute. That saves me from having to use oil. (There are other non-oil methods for sauteing. I just don’t like standing over the stove and worrying about burning and sticking.)

      The main safety issue with microwaves as far as I am concerned is cooking with plastics (of any kind – even supposedly microwave safe plastics). I just use glass or ceramic dishes.

      Hope that helps.

  14. I wanted to get some attention on the question heatherdee asked before. I noticed in Dr. Greger‘s book, that he used a non stick mat for baking in the oven. This, non-stick pans and other silicone dishes are great for cooking without oil, but are made of plastic. Is silicone any better than other plastics, or is it just more harmful to cook with oil than with BPA? Sorry if this was asked already under another video(Would wish this site has a forum, would be better UserExperience on my opinion)

  15. Hi, CelinaLand. There are many types of plastic, and not all contain BPA. There are also many kinds of non-stick pans, and all are not created equal. Silicone is different from what we think of as plastics, because it is made from naturally-occurring silica, like glass, and has a high heat tolerance. It does not melt in a hot oven, as plastic would. Most research on adverse effects of silicone is related to immune response to implanted silicone medical devices. I could not find anything indicating that using silicone cookware was associated with adverse health effects. Non-stick pans such as Teflon may leach chemicals into food. Based on currently available information, which may change, ceramic non-stick seems to be safer. I use silicone bakeware, enameled cast iron, and well-seasoned cast iron cookware in my kitchen. I hope that helps!

    1. I love how you guys answer all these questions. Thank you! Now I just wish Dr Gregor would please spill on the brand kitchen wares he uses. Its hard to navigate through all the sneaky junk to find what is truly silicone, for example, or I’ve even noticed some ceramic enamels have other added weird stuff. Etc. Slip me a list!

  16. Regarding the statement: “BPA is used in the lining of food cans, but thankfully, very little seems to leach into the food”, it is said in the referenced study:

    “Our data show that the concentrations of BPA in the samples analyzed are far below the current specific migration limits of 3 mg/kg food for BPA […] However, it is now widely recognized that toxic effects of bisphenols can arise from chronic exposure to doses much lower than those reported for acute exposure by chemical corporations and regulatory agencies. Indeed, following a near continuous daily exposure, and due to the high lipophilicity […] bisphenols can accumulate in the adipose tissue giving rise to persistent, although low, serum levels (12). Moreover, it should be taken into account the possible synergistic action withother xenoestrogens or with endogenous steroids that should cause toxicity even at concentrations of each individual xenoestrogen
    that alone would not produce measurable effects (13).”

    For your consideration.

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