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Think Twice Before You Eat Plasticizer’s In Fast Food

Think Twice Before You Eat Plasticizer’s In Fast Food

We all know that “fast food” isn’t the healthiest choice when it comes to eating. It’s generally low in nutrients and high in “bad’ fats and calories. But as it turns out, there may also be an additional layer of “badness” about it. A group of chemicals called “phthalates” has been shown to be more prevalent in people who eat fast food as compared to those who do not.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals used in plastic to make it more flexible and harder to break, thus known as “plasticizers”. They are also found in household cleaners, cosmetics, health and beauty products, flame retardants, and food packaging, although you’ll never see them listed in the ingredients. You’re probably familiar with one of the many kinds of phthalates, BPA, as there was a big push to remove it from consumer products. We felt some temporary relief when new plastic products were introduced with the label “BPA free”, only to later find out that the replacement chemical (BPS) is equally toxic. So, back to square one.

Health risks of plasticizers

Plasticizers have been implicated in causing birth defects, childhood chronic illnesses such as asthma, fertility issues and cancer. They are known to be “endocrine disruptors”, meaning they mimic hormones such as estrogen, thyroid and testosterone. They bind to receptors which are meant to be triggered by the body’s naturally occurring hormones, and thereby block the normal responses that should occur. Or they may cause overstimulation of the receptor or interfere with the body’s normal production of that hormone. As a consequence, they can cause hormone related diseases, such as endometriosis, cancers, infertility, thyroid dysfunction and more.

In this latest research, investigators wanted to see if there was a correlation with eating fast food, which is packaged in materials that contain phthalates, and phthalate levels measured in people’s urine, where it is excreted. The focus was on 2 specific phthalates, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP). They used data from almost 9000 people who detailed their diet over the previous 24 hours. They found that in people who ate fast food during that time frame, those chemicals were 24% and 40% higher (respectively) as compared to people who did not recently eat fast food. They also noted that the more fast food they ate, the higher the level of phthalates found in the test.

What you can do

Unfortunately we are exposed to these types of chemicals from other sources beyond fast food, but avoiding fast food is a smart place to start to improve overall health. If you are struggling with hormone-related issues, including thyroid problems, you probably want to take serious steps to avoid plasticizers. Instead of eating prepared food, try making your meals from whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein- and organic as much as possible. Store your food in glass instead of plastic or saran wrap. And never put hot food in contact with plastic. Look for other ways to support your thyroid such as reducing stress and taking herbal formulas. Over the long term, these small efforts can make a big impact!


Susanna D. Mitro, Cassandra A. Phillips, Ami R. Zota. Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures among the U.S. Population in NHANES, 2003–2010. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510803