How is your cookware impacting your health?
Have you ever tasted canned beans that have a ‘tinny’ tinge to their flavour? Ever had bottled water with a slightly pungent tang? An increasing number of health-conscious people are aware of what they eat. But are they as aware of what encases their food?
Foods are packed and stored using the most cost-effective methods available. Because of the way the mass-producing industries work, food needs to be kept for as long as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always in the best interests of the consumer’s health.
A product may be packed, stored and imported, after which it reaches its destination. There it may be left on the shelf for weeks, months or longer – a long time for your food and its wrapping to spend in each other’s company. So what’s the result of that much close contact?
Plastic is partly made from gaseous substances. During the solidification process some of these substances are trapped inside the plastic. With time, these gases slowly leach out into their surroundings. Therefore, the more time your food spends being hugged by its wrapping, the more these gases are likely to find their way into it.
Furthermore, acidic, fatty and hot foods have been found to increase the rate at which these gaseous substances leach. So think again before you stick leftovers from dinner in a plastic container for tomorrow.
Chemical disruption in the body
The link between plastic and breast cancer was first discovered in 1987, quite by accident. Research scientists Drs Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein were carrying out experiments of cancer cell growth at Tufts Medical School in Boston, USA. During their experiments, endocrine-disrupting chemicals leached out from plastic test tubes, causing a startling proliferation of breast cancer cells.
A research team headed by David Feldman of the Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, had its experiments disrupted in a similar manner by the giant plastic jugs in its laboratory. These occurrences caused great interest and have resulted in further investigation.
Spanish researchers Fatima and Nicolas Olea tested metal food cans lined with plastic. Approximately half the cans tested were found to be leaching hormone-disrupting chemicals. The levels of contamination were 27 times more than the amount the Stanford team reported was enough to make breast cancer cells proliferate.
Concerns for children
Many plastics, including polycarbonates found in baby bottles and water jugs, have the ability to mimic natural oestrogen in the body. This becomes highly fat-soluble and non-biodegradable. It can accumulate in the fat tissue of animals and humans and is near impossible to excrete. Reduced sperm production, reproductive problems and growth difficulties are just some of the possible outcomes of exposure.
Certain additives that are not allowed in babyfood because they can adversely affect health. However, you’ll find the very same additives on the surface of some plastic wraps. These substances can cause an increase in cholesterol levels and a breakdown of vitamin D in the body.
Aluminium makes up about eight per cent of the earth’s crust. It’s the third most common element and the most widely used metal after iron. It’s used for the manufacture of aeroplanes, cars, boats and electrical equipment and in the construction industry. It’s even used in rocket fuel.
Not-so-trusty cooking pot
When it comes to combining food with aluminium, however, the disadvantages begin to outweigh the benefits. When food is cooked in aluminium, the food acids react with the metal, which results in aluminium oxidation. Traces of aluminium end up in your food, leading to toxic residues in your body.
Have you noticed that over the years your good old aluminium pot has become thinner, just like human skin does as it gets older? The pot may be half its original thickness by now because you and your family have been slowly consuming it! If your skin is getting thinner as you age with your pot, it may well be because of the aluminium building up in your body.
Aluminium poisoning was first reported in 1921. Its possible effects are varied and numerous, including nausea, weakening of the digestive system, constipation, poor appetite, excessive perspiration, cramps, tiredness, tremors and jerking. These can be signs of worse to come.
Aluminium salts are capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier and may be responsible for neurofibrillary degeneration. High concentrations of aluminium have been found in the brain tissue of patients dying of Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminium is also a known carcinogen (cancer-forming).
Occupational exposure occurs when people are exposed to aluminium in the workplace. Coughing, increased phlegm production and a sense of irritation are noted symptoms, which are believed to be related to increased aluminium dust concentrated in the environment.
Aluminium is found in a whole range of products you may use every day. These include:
- Children’s products, including children’s aspirins and baby powder
- Foods such as cheeses, white flours, cake mixes and baking powder
- Medicines such as anti-diarrhoea products, analgesics, antacids, anti-haemorrhoid preparations and vaccinations
- Personal products such as antiperspirants, cosmetics and toothpaste
- False teeth
Non-stick pans allow a convenient, quick-to-heat method of cooking. No more soaking and scratching in a futile effort to get last night’s burnt bits off the bottom! The amazing substance with which non-stick pans are coated even made the Guinness World Book of Records as "the most slippery substance". Unfortunately, it can also kill your pet budgie.
Danger for pet birds
Reports are now arising about the damaging effect the fumes from non-stick pans can have on your pet bird. If the pan is pre-heated for more than three minutes or if the temperature exceeds a certain limit, it can be fatal to pets. Toxic fumes from overheated cooking pans lined with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) are a little-known but increasingly frequent cause of sudden death in caged pet birds, says avian medicine specialist Dr Peter Sakas of Niles Animal Hospital, Chicago.
Check your appliances
PTFE is used in many products, such as hairdryers, heaters and lighting fixtures. Incidents have been reported of PTFE poisoning when more than one of these appliances is being used at the same time. You need to check not only the ingredients of your food and cooking gear, but that of your electrical appliances, too!
Once inorganic material enters the body via the food you eat, it attaches itself to vital minerals and elements and renders them useless. For this reason, using copper and iron cookware is best avoided.
Copper, in particular, is easily dissolved into food if it’s not coated with steel or tin. In 1970 the New York Department of Health reported a case of copper poisoning among children. The children had drunk soft drink from the type of vending machine that drops a cup and fills it with carbonated water from one side and syrup from the other. The check valve for dispensing the carbonated water was made of copper, and a substantial amount of copper had dissolved into the carbonated water. Consequently, the children became ill.
Proof in the pudding
In view of the evidence against the safety of these products, why are they still sold? The answer is primarily because we still buy them despite the negative effects they have on our health.
Scientists are constantly throwing doubts on such issues as aluminium poisoning by coming up with statements like, "The data in support of this hypothesis is currently inadequate" or "There is insufficient evidence" or "It is not supported by available data". Yet how much evidence is needed? Must we wait for the death and disease of many people exposed to these substances to have enough scientific proof?
What is safe to eat from? It seems we have eliminated all the possibilities as being too dangerous. However, the following list demonstrates a surprising range of products that are readily available and safe to use:
- Tempered glass ovenware and enamel pots
- Glass saucepans
- Cast iron, providing you regularly coat it in unsalted vegetable oil
- Stainless steel (but don’t leave salty or acidic foods in it for too long)
- Bamboo steamers are especially good because this method of cooking allows food to retain more nutrients and enzymes
- Wooden chopping boards and bowls
- Ceramic or china bowls and cups
- Wooden and bamboo spoons and spatulas (metal on metal only increases the chances of inorganic material entering your food)
- Natural-bristle vegetable brushes
- Brown paper bags and paper wrapping for lunches
- Glass containers for food storage