The last thing you want to read in pregnancy is another "what not to eat" post -- I get it.
Currently, the United States allows more than 10,000 food additives to preserve, package, or alter the taste, appearance, texture, or nutrients in foods. Increasingly, studies are revealing that many of these additives interfere with hormones, growth, and development, which is problematic for children and people who are pregnant.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) put out a call for reforms to the U.S. food additives regulatory process. In the meantime, the organization recommends avoiding or lowering you exposure to certain additives while pregnant and when feeding children. Instead of a long list of things you can't eat, this is more a list of alternatives -- choose this instead of that.
The following list of additives to avoid are based on the AAP list of additives that are most concerning.
Problem: linked to a change in the timing of puberty, decreased fertility, increased body fat, and affect the nervous and immune systems.
Found in: plastics (has been banned in bottles and sippy cups), metal can lining
Avoid: plastics with recycling code number 7; plastics not labeled; cans not labeled BPA free
Replace with: glass, stainless steel, BPA-free plastic and cans
Problem: may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease
Found in: plastics and vinyl (banned in some child care products, including teething rings; many other commonly used items like fragrances, nail polish, and new cars
Avoid: plastics with recycling code number 3; plastics or vinyl not labeled "phthalate free"; products that have added fragrance
Replace with: Fragrance-free products or those that are only fragranced with essential oils; phthalate free plastics
Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals (PFCs)
Problem: may reduce immunity, birth weight, and fertility, and may affect the thyroid system
Found in: grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging, like those used in fast food and microwave popcorn; non-stick pots and pans
Avoid: fast food, microwave popcorn, non-stick cookware (Teflon)
Replace with: whole foods, non-toxic cookware
Problem: known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth
Found in: some dry food packaging, especially high in bologna, salami, and rice cereal (for babies)
Avoid: the items mentioned above; limit packaged food
Replace with: more whole foods
Artificial food coloring
Problem: increase in ADHD symptoms
Found in: a wide range of food, especially high in some drinks and candy
Avoid: labels that list food dyes
Replace with: foods without artificial coloring; food with nature-based food coloring
Problem: interferes with thyroid hormone production and the blood's ability to deliver oxygen in the body; linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers
Found in: cured or processed meat, including packaged meat and deli meat
Avoid: meat with nitrates or nitrite on the label
Replace with: nitrate/nitrite free meat
At first glance, this list is overwhelming. You might be wondering -- ok, so what CAN I eat?? Air? Before you freak out, understand this is not meant to be taken as a directive to throw out everything in your pantry, but rather a heads up to reexamine how you and your child are eating. Additionally, some changes to packaged food can only come from congressional action. Instead of hunting down every 100% non-toxic food item you can find (hint: not practical or likely), follow these few simple steps from the AAP to reduce your exposure and increase your overall health and safety:
Buy and serve more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed meats--especially during pregnancy.
Since heat can cause plastics to leak BPA and phthalates into food, avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic when possible. Also try to avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher.
Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.
Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”
Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and clean all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.
You can't get rid of all potential dangers in life, but you can make small, simple changes to increase your safety. We hope you take this information and apply to your life in a way that is practical and makes the most sense for you and your family.
What changes could you make this week to reduce your exposure to harmful food additives?