Phthalates are a class of harmful chemicals that have been in headline news for years. After enough consumers expressed concern, phthalates have finally become less common in children’s toys, body care and other childcare products. However, as Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports, a recent study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) shows that your family may still be exposed to these toxic chemicals via your groceries. Due to the use of phthalates in food processing and packaging, there may be chemicals in the cream-based dairy products, poultry, cooking oils and many other common foods you purchase. Phthalates, as you likely know, are a family of man-made chemicals that have applications in medical, automotive and consumer product industries, especially plastic items, and diet is currently considered a significant exposure pathway for them. Phthalates are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals and have been linked to many adverse health effects, especially when exposure occurs early on in life.

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To find out which foods may contain the most chemicals, the researchers at NIEHS looked at food monitoring studies and epidemiological papers on dietary phthalate exposure and found that beef, poultry, pork, oils and fats such as butter, margarine, cooking oils and lard, and cream based dairy products like ice cream and cheese are consistently reported to have high phthalate concentrations. The researchers also found that fruits, veggies, most whole grain products, and non-cream based dairy products contained low phthalate concentrations while phthalate concentrations in seafood, bread, cereal and spices varied from study to study.

The researchers noted that children who are fed a diet high in dairy products and meat may be ingesting a phthalate called DEHP in such a high amount that it exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated safe level. as EWG points out, the ultimate solution to this problem is that, “regulatory agencies must issue rules that bar phthalate-containing plasticized materials from use in food processing and packaging.” Of course, we all know that chemical regulation is a slow game here in the USA, so if you’d like to avoid these phthalates in food right now, buy food that’s been minimally processed, fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits and cook or heat food in glass or ceramic containers, not plastics.

RELATED | Phthalates in Body Care Products Linked to Childhood Obesity

+ Phthalates and diet: a review of the food monitoring and epidemiology data

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