Better Eating

Sometime back I came across an article in the New York Times (‘Food companies seeking safe alternative to BPA’) which was about the consumer’s urge for the removal of the compound (BPA) from use as can lining but new options do not appear to be any better.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic synthetic compound. It is used in the coatings on the inside of many food and beverage cans to ward off spoilage and botulism, and ensure product and food safety. It is used also in the making of plastic bottles and as a coating on receipts (thermal paper) of cash registers, ATM, etc., allowing inkless printing.

Exposure to BPA is a matter of concern as it can be harmful to humans. It has an adverse biological effect on other species and the environment at large. The substance can leach to the canned edible stuff: vegetables, fruits, processed meats, fish, water, juice, etc., and eventually be consumed. Plastic bottles and containers contain the compound which may equally leach to their contents. With heat the leaching is accentuated. From receipts of cash registers, BPA is easily rubbed off into the skin or transferred to the skin and ingested through hand-to-mouth contact. There is some dermal absorption that contributes to the overall human intake. In any case these receipts, plastic bottles, cans with the BPA are at the end of the day dumped into the environment with potential ill effects to both the flora and fauna.

The health effects of ingesting BPA on humans are related to obesity, neurological ailments, thyroid malfunction, cancer, asthma, heart disease. BPA’s ubiquity makes it an important pollutant that has a detrimental effect in nature. It interferes with nitrogen fixation (a natural biological process of getting fertilizer from microbes in the soil). BPA can leach into water (lakes, rivers) and harm fish and other aquatic organisms over time. It is fortunate there is biodegradation of BPA, meaning that left on its own there are certain microbes in nature that degrade and eliminate the BPA from the environment.

Many developed countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and European Union have set their own standards of usage. For example baby foods are packed in BPA free containers. The World Health Organisation has however not recommended any strict regulation or put a ban on the use of BPA.

The following quote from an article ‘The Perils of Plastic’ in Time magazine:

“The problem is, BPA is also a synthetic estrogen, and plastics with BPA can break down, especially when they’re washed, heated or stressed, allowing the chemical to leach into food and water and then enter the human body. That happens to nearly all of us; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found BPA in the urine of 93% of surveyed Americans over the age of 6. If you don’t have BPA in your body, you’re not living in the modern world…” speaks eloquently about how it is difficult to live free from BPA contamination.

Though the current exposure level is safe, we can prevent it from reaching a limit of intolerance and toxicity that start causing us real problems. Prevention is better than cure, goes the adage. In periods of fasting we normally consume fresh foods, juices, vegetables, etc. We can continue with those perennial habits and gradually eliminate usage of canned products. We can also opt for soft drinks, jams, etc., in glass containers. Why take risks when options for better eating exist?

 

  • Published in print edition on 6 November 2015

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