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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published a review voicing their concerns regarding food additives and child health.
The AAP is proposing urgently needed reforms to the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory processes for approving and categorizing food additives such as preservatives, food coloring, and chemicals found in packaging materials. The AAP expressed their growing concern towards food additives due to studies documenting endocrine (hormone) system disruption and other adverse health effects over the past twenty years. You may read the AAP’s review here.
You guys, this is HUGE. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics is alarmed by the food additives and preservatives our children are consuming. The issue of plastics, preservatives, and dangerous by-products is no longer a crunchy-mama, essential oil thumper’s area of concern. This is pretty serious if the AAP is writing a review and calling for reform. Children are more vulnerable to these negative health consequences due to their greater dietary intake per pound and underdeveloped metabolic and key organ systems. ( Landrigan PJ,Goldman LR)
There are more than 10,000 chemicals allowed to be added to food and food packaging materials in the United States under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Many of these were grandfathered in for use by the federal government before the 1958 amendment, and an estimated 1,000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation process without US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.1
Many of these chemicals used in food production are suggested to contribute to disease and disability. Below is a table outlining the chemicals highlighted by the AAP.
What are the chemicals/additives and the health concerns associated with them?
|Chemical/Additive:||Where it's Found/Why it's Used||Health Concerns:|
|Bisphenols (such as BPA):||Used in the lining of metal cans to prevent corrosion.||Endocrine disruption (hormone disruption), Obesogenic activity (weight gain), Neuro-developmental disruption (ADHD, learning impairments, intellectual disabilities)|
|Phthalates:||Are esters of diphthalic acid that are often used in adhesives, lubricants, and plasticizers during the manufacturing process.||Oxidative stress (difficulty detoxing) Cardiotoxicity (heart damage), Endocrine disruption (hormone disruptuon), Obesogenic activity (weight gain)|
|Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals (PFCs):||Used in grease-proof paper and packaging.||Immunosupression (suppressed immune system) Endocrine disruption (hormone disruption), Obesogenic activity (weight gain), Decreased birth weight|
|Perchlorate:||Used as an antistatic agent used for plastic packaging in contact with dry foods with surfaces that do not contain free fat or oil and also present as a degradation product of bleach used to clean food manufacturing equipment.||Thyroid Hormone Disruption|
|Nitrates:||Used to preservative color and prolong shelf life (packaged meat and processed foods).||Carcinogenicity (ability to cause cancer), Thyroid Hormone Disruption|
|Nitrites:||Used to preserve color and prolong shelf life (packaged meat and processed foods).||Carcinogenicity (ability to cause cancer), Thyroid Hormone Disruption|
How are these toxins even allowed in our products?
Most of these additives, chemicals, by-products are considered to be “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)” by the FDA. The AAP is citing critical weaknesses within the FDA’s current regulatory system for food additives. Those weaknesses include:
- A weak foundation and definition of the term GRAS (see below for more info).
- Conflict of interest. No third party testing or auditing is conducted to obtain GRAS certification.
- The FDA cannot reassess chemicals already on the market or those that were grandfathered in.
What does GRAS mean?
GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe is the FDA’s designation that a chemical or substance added to food is considered safe by experts, so it is exempted from the usual Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) food additive tolerance requirements. The GRAS term was intended to be assigned sparingly but the process to achieve the GRAS label is voluntary and virtually unaudited. The GRAS database has not been reevaluated for safety since the 1980’s. The United States Government Accountability Office conducted an extensive review of the FDA’s GRAS process and concluded there are many issues with the GRAS database. ( United States Government Accountability Office)
There’s a lack of data regarding food additive safety.
“A recent evaluation of 3941 direct food additives revealed that 63.9% of these had no feeding data whatsoever (either a study of the lethal dose in 50% of animals or an oral toxicology study). Only 263 (6.7%) had reproductive toxicology data, and 2 had developmental toxicology data.64 “ -American Academy of Pediatrics
Examples of food products/packaging that may contain harmful chemicals:
Bisphenols (such as BPA):
Bisphenol A (BPA) can be found in plastics and resins in canned foods. Avoid cheap off brand plastic items that do not designate they are “BPA free”, canned beans, plastic water bottles, and avoid using plastics #3 and #7 as they may contain BPA. Do not microwave plastic containers. Toxic Food Cans is a resource to check if your canned food brand has tested positive for BPA.
- Canned food
- Plastic water bottles
- Off brand plastics
- Plastics #3
- Plastics #7
- Resin lining in beverage cans
Some phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible but have a slew of negative health consequences attached to them. Avoid storing food and reheating food in plastic containers. Ditch your plastic coffee maker. Try to eat fresh food as much as possible to avoid packaging. Don’t use plastics #3 and #7. Avoid using plastic as much as possible and definitely don’t microwave plastics.
- plastic tupperware
- plastic coffee makers
- to go containers
- plastics #3
- plastics #7
Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals (PFCs):
- Grease resistant packages contain PFCs. The following are examples of where you might find PFCs:
- microwave popcorn bags
- pizza boxes
- hot pocket sleeves
- some fast food containers
- Non-stick pans
Nitrates and Nitrites:
- Deli meats (cold cuts)
- Hot dogs
It’s hard to pinpoint which products are contaminated with perchlorates. According to a publication, “perchlorate contamination is widespread: it is present in the body of all Americans tested and the majority of foods tested. The main sources of food contamination appear to be hypochlorite bleach, a disinfectant and sanitizer, that when poorly managed quickly degrades to perchlorate and perchlorate-laden plastic food packaging for dry food or localized contamination from manufacturing or processing of the chemical.”
An FDA study revealed high levels of perchlorates in:
- Infant rice cereal
“The FDA’s study does not reveal the brand names of the contaminated foods and the reported perchlorate levels in food varied widely, suggesting that how the food was processed may have made a significant difference”. (Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director at Environmental Defense Fund)
It’s nearly impossible to avoid perchlorate exposure. Perchlorates can be found in fireworks, rocket fuel, fertilizer, road flares, disinfectants, food packaging and even tap water. Our best bet to lower exposure to perchlorates is to spread information and encourage the substance to be banned in food production.
To read more about perchlorates, click here.
How can we avoid or lower our exposure to these harmful substances?
Here are the suggestions listed straight from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible, and support that effort by developing a list of low-cost sources for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Avoid processed meats, especially maternal consumption during pregnancy.
Avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible.
Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher.
Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.
Look at the recycling code on the bottom of products to find the plastic type, and avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols.
Encourage hand-washing before handling foods and/or drinks, and wash all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.
-American Academy of Pediatrics
There are easy product swaps to lower your family’s exposure to these harmful chemicals found in processed foods, packaging, and containers.
It’s best to avoid processed or pre-packaged snacks but I understand that’s nearly impossible in the busy lives we live today. Save processed and pre-packaged snacks for “emergency snacks” or only on the go. When you’re at home, serve fresh fruits and vegetable snacks. Try to prepare and cut vegetables ahead of time for quick access.
Swap your plastic baby bottles for glass bottles to avoid BPA and phthalates. This swap is important because baby bottles are often warmed and sterilized in extreme heat that could potentially release chemicals present in plastic into the milk or formula.
Swap plastic tupperware for glass containers to avoid BPA and phthalates. Costco runs a special on glass tupperware fairly often and there are plenty of options on Amazon- just be sure to stick to a name brand you recognize that indicates BPA free lids.
Use natural food coloring pigmented from real food. Chefmaster Naturals are pigmented with Beta Carotene, Beet Powder, Spirulina Powder.
Use glass or stainless steel water bottles to avoid BPA and phthalates from plastic bottles.
Use stainless steel snack cups to keep food away from plastic.
Purchase nitrite and nitrate free deli meat if you must purchase deli meat. I like the Plainville Organic Turkey Slices from Costco. If the packaging does not specifically note the meat is free of nitrites and nitrates, avoid it.
Consider purchasing in bulk from health food stores to avoid perchlorates in packaging. Store your bulk food in glass containers at home. I love purchasing in bulk because it reduces waste, is cheaper, and gives me a reason to buy more glass mason jars #containerfreak.
Put your Instant Pot Pressure Cooker to good use and can your own food in glass jars instead of purchasing canned food.
Purchase dried beans or frozen vegetables instead of canned foods or looked for foods stored in glass.
If you purchase frozen pizza or other frozen meals, don’t cook them on the grease resistant silver colored cooking sheet provided (it probably has PFC’s in it). Instead, transfer the food to a cooking stone or glassware to cook.
Replace your nonstick cookware with stainless steel cookware. Cooking with stainless steel is a breeze as long as you use plenty of fats, like oil or butter.
My Thoughts On Food Additive Safety:
By now your head is spinning and you’re probably full of emotions. Take a deep breath, we can fix this. We can reshape our habits and transition away from plastics and packaged foods. I know that was a lot of information to unload and if I could give a lumped solution to avoid these harmful toxins, it would be to get rid of as much plastic in your kitchen (and life) as you can, don’t heat the remaining plastic in your life, and eat as much fresh food from local butchers and farmers.
The good news is that the internet is FULL of resources and people willing to offer their expertise in whole food recipes, affordable, plastic free swaps and other findings. I post weekly product swaps on my instagram @dobetterblog , so check it out for easy swaps to make. It’s very difficult to stay away from all of these contaminants- give yourself grace and do the best you can to lower your family’s exposure to these harmful chemicals.
I’m really glad this issue is coming up. We’ve introduced SO many additives, preservatives, and by-products to our daily lives without proper research (although we’re just now seeing the connective research and effects of these substances). At one point we were lead to believe lead paint and cigarettes were “safe” and time told a different story.
Landrigan PJ,Goldman LR. Children’s vulnerability to toxic chemicals: a challenge and opportunity to strengthen health and environmental policy. Health Aff (Millwood). 2011;30(5):842–850pmid:21543423
Neltner TG,Kulkarni NR, Alger HM, et al. Navigating the U.S. Food Additive Regulatory Program. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2011;10(6):342–368
Neltner TG, Alger HM, Leonard JE, Maffini MV. Data gaps in toxicity testing of chemicals allowed in food in the United States. Reprod Toxicol. 2013;42:85-94
What are your thoughts on the AAP’s newest review of food additives and children? Are there any measures you take to avoid these harmful chemicals and food additives? Please post them in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you!
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