All it takes is rummaging through your kitchen drawers, peeking in your fridge, or digging through your lunch box to realize that most of the containers people use to store and serve food are made of plastic.
(Also read: Know the supposed risks that the microwave oven has for health).
When it comes to packing lunch, this generally also tends to be the predominant material due to its durability, flexibility, and lightness. It is common to see workers and students introducing this type of container in the microwave, a ‘workhorse’ in homes, but also in public places.
The popularity of plastic containers has sparked a broad health debate around them. Can its chemical compounds be a risk to the well-being of people, once they come into contact with the microwave?
Is it bad to microwave lunch with plastic containers?
Harvard University notes that chemicals in plastics can leach out of the material, penetrating the food and beverages that are consumed. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity) and reduced fertility, details the American institution.
“Some plastics are not designed to be microwaved because they have polymers inside to make them soft and flexible, which melt at a lower temperature and can leak out during the microwave process if it goes above 100°C (212°F),” he said. Juming Tang, Professor. of food engineering at Washington State University, in dialogue with ‘BBC’.
(Keep reading: Learn about the alleged health risks the Air Fryer poses.)
Among the most harmful bioactive chemicals are bisphenol A, also known as BPA, and phthalates. The first is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. For example, on water bottles or inside metal products such as food cans, bottle caps and water supply lines, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The entity cited above suggests that BPA is safe at low levels, but when it leaks into food it can lead to increased blood pressure, and is linked to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
(Of interest: Learn about the supposed risks that the cell phone represents for health).
Bisphenol A can also act as an endocrine disruptor and affect hormones in the body. It has also been linked to fetal abnormalities and brain and behavioral disorders in infants and children, according to a 2020 study.
Other research published in the National Library of Medicine (NIH) concluded that “BPA plays a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders, including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone-dependent tumors, such as breast and prostate cancer, and various metabolic disorders, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).”
A thorough evaluation of various scientific evidence by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) found that Dietary exposure to bisphenol is currently a health problem for consumers of all age groups. Both the European Commission and national authorities should discuss the appropriate regulatory measures to implement.
In order to avoid exposing yourself to BPA, the Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding putting these types of containers on heat, since it can break down and leach into food. Instead, it is advisable to use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids.
Phthalates, another dangerous chemical
Another of the chemicals present in plastics and that can leach into food once it comes into contact with heat are phthalates, commonly used to soften rigid plastics.
Like BPA, this compound can impact hormones and the metabolic system. Several studies indicate that both pregnant women and children and adolescents are more vulnerable to the health effects of phthalates, especially those that alter the hormonal system.
“In children, phthalates can increase blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and hypertension. Exposure has also been linked to fertility problems, asthma and ADHD”, points out ‘BBC’.
In the absence of strict requirements, experts agree to avoid plastic containers with chemicals that can leach into your food. Instead, glassware or stainless steel may be good choices.
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