Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Avoiding BPA: Canned Foods

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the most common chemicals to which we are all exposed, and we are exposed to it on a daily basis. A study by the Centers for Disease Control found traces of BPA in the urine of 93% of the people it tested, with the highest levels being found in children. It has been found in blood samples from developing fetuses and in umbilical cord blood at birth.

These findings are a matter of great concern, especially for pregnant women and children. BPA is an endocrine disruptor. It mimics estrogen in the body, binding to the same receptors in our cells as estrogen does. Exposure to BPA has been linked to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, as well as other diseases. In addition, it has been linked to neurological and behavioral disorders in children. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that girls born to mothers who tested high for BPA during pregnancy were more likely to experience behavioral and emotional problems as toddlers than were girls whose mothers had low levels of the chemical in their bodies.

One of the main sources of our extensive exposure to this chemical is through canned foods. BPA is used to make the epoxy resins that line most metal food cans; these linings leach BPA into the food. Another recent study by Harvard researchers showed that people who ate one serving of canned food (in the study it was canned soup) daily for five days had significantly elevated levels--a more than 1,000% increase--of BPA in their bodies.

I am determined to avoid exposing myself and my family to this chemical as much as possible. One of the ways I do this is by avoiding most canned foods. The only canned food items I purchase are Eden Organic beans. This company has been using BPA free cans since 1999.

I have found alternatives to three other items I use frequently and that I used to buy in cans: tomatoes, tomato paste and coconut milk. For soups, stews and sauces, I use Pomi chopped tomatoes; they are packaged in aseptic cartons which are BPA free. Bionaturae sells tomato paste in glass jars. I find both of these products at the Whole Foods in East Liberty.

Finally, coconut milk presented me with a challenge. I use it quite a bit for soups and stews. While I read that the brand Native Forest uses BPA free cans, I have not been able to find it in my area. It is available from Amazon, but the reviews are very mixed. My solution is to make my own from dried unsweetened coconut flakes. I found the technique in Mark Bittman's book "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian."

To make about 2 cups of coconut milk:  (1) Combine 1 cup of shredded unsweetened dried coconut with 2 cups of very hot water in a blender. Pulse on and off quickly, then turn on the blender for about 15 seconds. Let sit for a few minutes. (2) Put the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the solids and use the milk.

It's really easy and the coconut milk works beautifully in all my recipes.

In future posts, I will be discussing other sources of exposure to BPA and how to avoid them. Do you know of any other companies that use BPA free cans, or have you found alternatives to items you used to purchase in cans?

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