If you’re about to nuke your leftovers in a plastic container, you might want to dirty another dish. When heated, harmful chemicals in plastic can leech into your food, potentially increasing your risk of high blood pressure and insulin resistance, according to a series of new studies out of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. This is concerning because hypertension and insulin resistance, which is closely linked to prediabetes, are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
According to the latest study, published this week in the journal Hypertension, two so-called safer chemicals increasingly used to strengthen plastic wrap, soap, cosmetics, and processed food containers have been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents.
Ten years ago, compounds called phthalates were introduced to replace another chemical, called DEHP, which the same researchers had shown in previous studies to have similar negative health effects.
“Our research adds to growing concerns that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders,” stated study author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, a professor at NYU Langone.
While more research needs to be done, growing evidence supports the need for vigilance when handling and cooking food in
plastics. Follow these seven safe and simple rules for using plasticware in your kitchen:
- Never nuke your food in plastic. If you’re heating up leftovers, transfer them into microwave-safe glass or stoneware — or even a paper plate — to avoid harmful chemicals.
- Don’t put plasticd in the dishwasher. Like microwave heat, hot water in the dishwasher can cause chemicals to leech out of plastic. Instead, gently hand wash plasticware in the sink.
- Discard plastic that’s warped or edged from overuse. If your plastic looks worse for wear, it’s time to throw it away. Scarring on plastic is a telltale sign that protective layers are worn out, and “suggests higher leeching” according Dr. Transande.
- Choose aluminum foil or waxed paper over plastic cling wrap. Although foil and waxed paper aren’t microwave-safe, they make good substitutes for storing and packing food to go, and they don’t contain phthalates.
- Invest in glass storage containers. Reusable glass containers are a safe and economical way to store and heat food and leftovers. Look for options that are both refrigerator- and microwave-safe so you can cool and heat in the same container.
- Choose bottled drinks and processed foods wisely. Trasande says you should avoid plastic containers labeled with the numbers 3, 6, or 7, which indicate they contain phthalates.
- Make your own meals using fresh, whole foods. If microwaveable meals are in heavy rotation in your house, ditch them in favor of home-cooked meals. Processed foods are packed with more than just the phthalates — their high sodium, fat, and sugar content can contribute to hypertension, obesity, and diabetes as well.
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