Alright, do you want the good news or bad news first? Let’s start on a positive note – the next time you pull up to a fast food drive through, you’ll be getting more for your buck without knowing it. So far, so good…what’s the bad news? You might be getting an extra side of phthalates (DEHP and DiNP) with your value meal. Say what? As Science Daily explains, phthalates are a “class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food.”
Researchers at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health released a study this month showing that those who consumed more fast food tended to have 24-40% above average levels of DEHP and DiNP. These phthalates can easily leach into the processed foods we eat. By coming in contact with packaging, gloves, and other items before cooking, or when food is served, you can unknowingly ingest phthalates, which have been “linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults,” according to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Ami Zota.
Also used to make vinyl flooring, plastics, wallpaper, detergent, and lacquers, phthalates have been linked to infertility, birth defects, chronic illnesses such as asthma, and behavioral problems in children. The U.S. Congress has permanently banned the use of DEHP in toys, baby bottles, and sleep soothers, and DiNP has also been temporarily banned in the same applications.
A quick note on the methods: the GW study defined fast food as: restaurants without table service, any pizza restaurants regardless of service, and all carryout or delivery food. The results were controlled based on age, sex, race, BMI, and household income. Interestingly, DiNP levels found were much higher than DEHP, suggesting a stronger link between DiNP and fast food consumption specifically.
So what’s a hungry person to do? One “can’t go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food,” Zota suggests. “A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates.”