“Should You be Eating That?” Could Have a New Meaning

I’ll be danged. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from food packaging. BPA, an agent used to harden plastics and found in nearly all canned food and beverage liners (plus baby bottles, water bottles, and more) is an endocrine disrupter, or more specifically, an estrogen mimic. It could be linked to cardiovascular diseases, liver abnormalities…and diabetes.


And then, of course, there are questions about its effect on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, babies, and young children.

The FDA says, however, that the “scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe.”

My eyebrows first shot up when I read a study published in the November 23/30, 2011, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association that detailed the results of a blinded crossover trial in which 75 subjects ate either canned soup or homemade soup for five days. Half ate canned soup, followed by a two-day washout period and then homemade soup. The other half ate homemade soup first, followed by a washout period, then canned soup. Aside from the soup, they could eat whatever they liked.

When subjects ate the nationally distributed canned soup, their urinary levels of BPA were 20 times higher than when they ate a similar homemade soup, averaging 1.1 mcg/L when they ate homemade soup for five days and soaring to 20.8 mcg/L when they ate the canned soup for the same amount of time. This wasn’t all soup all the time, people: It was one serving of soup per day at lunch. Just think of all the food and drink we consume out of cans. All day long. (Not to mention the water we drink that comes to us through plastic water pipes.)

I was discussing the BPA situation with my friend Karen and she suggested I look up the American Diabetes Association’s 2011 Banting Lecture by that year’s Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement Award winner, Barbara E. Corkey, PhD, of Boston University’s School of Medicine, where she is the vice chair for research at the school’s Obesity Research Center.

In the lecture, she talks about food additives and suggests they could be contributing to the worldwide upswing in obesity and diabetes. By the way, it isn’t just Type 2 diabetes that’s increasing: Type 1 is, too. Both are believed to have environmental components.

Corkey noted that much has changed to explain the diabetes epidemic. “Our foods have changed; living conditions, activity levels, the air we breathe have all changed: So where,” she asks, “can we start looking for culprits?”

“The worldwide expansion of metabolic diseases across all age-groups decreases the likelihood that our air or unique living conditions are the main culprits,” she says.

Neither will laying the blame on too little activity.

“The difference in activity levels among boys and girls, old and young, a farmer and an office worker make it unlikely that decreased activity, though detrimental, can be the only main explanation,” she says.

“However,” she added, “food is now universally shared across the globe, particularly processed food.”

I noted with interest a slide that listed the ingredients in a container of Neopolitan ice cream. The vanilla ice cream alone had 18 ingredients, only two of which (milk and egg yolks) were real food — and even the milk was lactose reduced. I don’t know about you, but I make my vanilla ice cream with milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, and a vanilla bean. Actually, vanilla wasn’t even listed as an ingredient in Corkey’s example, although it could have fallen under “natural flavor.” (But why didn’t the manufacturer just say “vanilla?” It’s a puzzlement to me.)

What’s been happening with our foods? Carkey said in her lecture that more than 4,000 new agents have been added to our foods, either intentionally or inadvertently. How many of those have been evaluated for contributing to diabetes or obesity? Practically none.

Back in the day, it took 112 days for poultry to reach market weight. Today, it’s down to 42 days. What effect are animal feed additives having on the humans who eat the meat? Who knows? Do the growth hormone injections given to the animals we eat have an effect on our bodies, too? Your guess is as good as mine. And Corkey’s.

“I am testing a number of ingredients in food including some of the antibiotics and hormones given to food animals as well as unintentionally ingested plastics,” she wrote in an e-mail, “but there are not many others researching these areas and it’s a long, slow slog.”

She calls for more investment of government and private funds “to solve these problems and stop blaming patients when we are ignorant of the true causes of the problem.”

“Amen,” say those of us who are tired of the “blame game.”

I’ve barely skimmed the surface today, so I will continue this discussion next week. Have a healthy one. Oh, by the way: You DO know how to cook from scratch, don’t you?

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  • Deb

    Thank goodness for allergies! (Sort of.) I do cook mainly from scratch, although I do use some canned foods. I remember back in the days when my daughter was small, about 30 years ago, there was great concern about additives and chemicals. Now it only seems as if it’s gotten worse and those who are supposed to be protecting us are falling down on the job.
    Unfortunately I can’t garden any more, or even process the locally grown vegetables I used to depend on in the summer. And the food coops where I used to be able to buy bulk and whole foods direct from the manufacture have gone away as well.
    All I can do is the best I can and depend upon concerned people for information. I’m looking forward to hearing more on this from you next week.

  • Jan Chait

    We have a farmer’s market here once a week May through October. Some of the farmers around here sell boxes of whatever produce they have — you pay for the season up front, and pick up a box every week. We have a convent here and the sisters are very much into ecology, so they participate in that program. No food coop yet, but it’s coming (I should join). I hear you about not doing as much as you used to. I made pickled beets over the weekend. Used to be I would start with fresh beets, but just bought canned. The ingredients were beets, water, and salt, but there is the can lining to wonder about. I plan to do some research and see how we can avoid as much as possible. And, yes, all we can do is the best we can.


  • calgarydiabetic

    The commercial soups should go back to “tinned” cans. The was a Canadian programme called Nature of Things that showed that while Bisphenol a was not harmful at high concentration it was very harmful at low ones. This is because at low concentration it is acting as a female hormone.

  • joan

    Thank you for verifying what I have suspected for years! I have food allergies so we cook from scratch in our home. Use only basic ingredients.
    I figure if I can not pronounce the ingredient, or spell it, I do not want the ingredient in my food choices.

    I intend to post the URL to this article to the ADA Type 1 Message Board.

    Thanks again :0))

  • jim snell

    Jan’s ice cream seems to be the only one worth eating. Sounds great.

  • 3d

    Even if you cook by scratch, unless you raise it (vegs/fruits) and raise what you feed it (critters), you will still have more unknowns that will affect you. Totally “organic” and raw, we still get all the crap from what is in the water and air that deposits stuff. At best, we get a reduction in chemicals, but it is much better.

    Now, can we get the cities, homeowners assoc and other regulators to quit making it impossible to have a mini-farm on what is left of your 6 feet from the edge of the house wall lot? If you want to plant veggies in containers on a condo patio (since most have no ground), you should be allowed to, including stringing the lines for the vines to rise up. If you want 2 chickens for eggs on your .1 acre lot, you should be able to. I am fortunate to live in a city, but a much older section that is not under HOA and has more leeway – but must still have 750 sq ft + 25x25ft shelter to have one mini goat to eat grass and make milk. Most dogs are not even that lucky.

  • Marcie

    🙂 Oh, come on now!! If something in the environment can be causing type 2, etc., then how can “normal” people just brush us off as lazy, fat, junk food junkies?!?!?

  • Jan Chait

    Nah. Just some renegade researcher who believes there’s something beyond our constant consumption of hamburgers and fries as we loll about on the couch. Genetics have nothing to do with Type 2, either. Move along, move along. Pay no attention to the person behind the curtain.


  • jim snell

    I love it. What is this – cynics international?

    Never mind the chemicals, one needs to really research the parasites and disease items that come for free as well.

    Giardia is most hardy. Unless a 1/2 micron filter or boiling for 5 minutes. the oococytes survive chlorine, and hot coffee at 140 deg F.

    Yet we are all to eat raw vegetables and fresh fruit and vegetables and given NO real rational tech inspection or chemical wash of this stuff, we are to take producers word his cows never saundered thru the vegetable patch or he was not using organic fertilizer unsterilized.

  • Jan Chait

    Cynic, Jim? You lookin’ in the mirror? 🙂

    Lots of things need looking at. Thank goodness a small number of people are starting to look. Maybe we shouldn’t be messing at all with what the higher power created, but here we are.

    All we can do is the best we can.


  • jim snell

    Fair enough. I deserved that.

    I’ve been looking in the mirror too long and need to change my view.

  • Linda Martin

    I think I’ve been eating too many chickens—I reached my “market weight” a long time ago and now I know why. All these additives are sure to be doing terrible things to all of us. I grew up on a farm with homegrown veggies and meat. Now I live in town and no where to garden. I try to buy from a local farmers market in the summer. But I don’t know what the answer is to all this and sure wish the people who can the soups and veggies could find something safe to put the stuff in. Thanks for trying to keep us informed.

  • Jan Chait

    Linda, if you’ve only reached market weight for a chicken, you’re not doing too bad. When you begin to approach market weight for a steer or a hog, that’s a different matter.

    Aside from that, do you have room to do some container gardening? Read up on square foot gardening: lots of good info on what mix to plant in, that you only need 6 inches of soil (except for carrots and potatoes), grow more in less space, how to grow plants out of season, and stuff like that. Mel Bartholomew is the square foot gardening guru. See if the library has his book. Online, Bartholomew’s site is http://www.squarefootgardening.com — and surf the ‘net for more info. You might not get a full garden’s worth, but you might be able to eke out some here and there.