CHEM­I­CAL RE­AC­TION A recipe for (avoid­ing) dis­as­ter brought on by ev­ery­day items

In our new world of plas­tic-free liv­ing and or­ganic ev­ery­thing, you’d think our food and favourite prod­ucts would be free of chem­i­cal com­pounds. Think again…

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents -

So you’ve ditched any prod­ucts con­tain­ing fish-dam­ag­ing mi­crobeads, it’s been months since you even looked at a plas­tic straw and you’ve bought a new hand­bag big enough for your pre­cious Keep Cup. That must mean you’re chem­i­cal-free – right? Not quite. Ev­ery­thing we’re made of, touch, smell, taste and even breathe is a chem­i­cal. Mean­ing that while some are nat­u­ral and harm­less, oth­ers are man-made, and a few even com­mand head­lines so alarm­ing they make us want to start Zorb­ing to work in a pro­tec­tive, in­flat­able bub­ble. But be­fore you start search­ing Ama­zon for such a de­vice (we checked – they’re ex­pen­sive) and bin­ning ev­ery­thing in your bath­room cab­i­net, lis­ten up. “Our re­cent ob­ses­sion with ev­ery­thing or­ganic has made us fear­ful of any­thing that can be seen as a chem­i­cal ad­di­tive,” ex­plains Alan Boobis, di­rec­tor of the Pub­lic Health Eng­land Tox­i­col­ogy Unit at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. “But, in most cases, that fear is wholly un­jus­ti­fied.” Here’s how to recog­nise and swerve the worst of­fend­ers in your ev­ery­day life…


FOUND IN: Char­grilled and toasted foods. WHAT IS IT? The mol­e­cule that forms as food browns – think roasted cof­fee, toast and spuds – is ac­tu­ally a po­ten­tially car­cino­genic com­pound called acryl­amide that’s been shown to cause can­cer in rats. SHOULD I WORRY? Not ad­versely, no, but there are ways to mit­i­gate con­sump­tion. First, avoid things that are overly char­grilled (which could mean steer­ing clear of your lo­cal ke­bab shop, sorry). Next, skip the frozen-chip aisle, as pro­cessed food and po­ta­toes can be high in this chem­i­cal. But essen­tially, don’t dec­i­mate your toast and you’ll be fine. CAN I SWERVE IT? Time to up your quota of raw and steamed food. “To avoid acryl­amide at home, that means no roast­ing, bak­ing or toast­ing,” Boobis ex­plains. “No bis­cuits, no bread, no toast. That’s the re­al­ity.” And a mis­er­able one. Strike a mid­dle ground and min­imise your acryl­amide con­sump­tion by blanch­ing po­ta­toes be­fore cook­ing and aim­ing for a golden yel­low colour when toast­ing and fry­ing. As for cof­fee: the chem­i­cal in it is so low-risk there’s no need to worry. Phew.


FOUND IN: Plas­tic bot­tles and con­tain­ers, tele­vi­sions, ket­tles and the lin­ing of tin cans. WHAT IS IT? A chem­i­cal with a murky rep­u­ta­tion, last year BPA was de­clared an en­docrine dis­rup­tor by The Eu­ro­pean Chem­i­cals Agency – a chem­i­cal that ›

up­sets hor­mones and has been linked to an ar­ray of ill­nesses. Ear­lier this year, the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Com­mit­tee on the En­vi­ron­ment, Pub­lic Health and Food Safety im­posed a ban on bisphe­nol A in plas­tic bot­tles and pack­ag­ing con­tain­ing food for chil­dren un­der three.

SHOULD I WORRY? Well, if you’re chomp­ing down on TVs and ket­tles, then yes (for many rea­sons, re­ally). But as lev­els are so low, you’d have to get through a hell of a lot of Heinz be­fore you’d see any ef­fects from tin cans. It’s im­por­tant to reg­u­larly re­place and re­cy­cle any plas­tic food con­tain­ers you use, too. If you’re go­ing to be heat­ing plas­tic, it’s bet­ter to go BPA-free al­to­gether, as the mi­crowav­ing process has been shown to cause more of the chem­i­cal to leach out.

CAN I SWERVE IT? You can eas­ily get hold of BPA-free plas­tic con­tain­ers and bot­tles that can be heated or used for hot liq­uid, or just opt for glass or metal in­stead.


FOUND IN: Beauty prod­ucts (and oc­ca­sion­ally some pro­cessed foods, too, listed as E214, E217, E218 and E219).

WHAT ARE THEY? Top­ping any or­ganic-beauty junkie’s list of worst of­fend­ers, parabens – preser­va­tives that stop mould and bac­te­ria break­ing out in your mois­turiser – first hit head­lines in 2004 when they were found in breast-tu­mour tis­sues, rais­ing fears they may be linked to can­cer be­cause they mimic the ef­fect of oe­stro­gen in the body. That study, how­ever, has been widely crit­i­cised, and while parabens may have a weak, oe­stro­gen-like ef­fect, there just aren’t enough in cos­met­ics to pose a prob­lem.

SHOULD I WORRY? Sci­en­tists dis­agree about how rel­e­vant this re­search

is to peo­ple – stud­ies on the di­rect ef­fects of parabens on hu­mans are yet to be car­ried out.

CAN I SWERVE THEM? There’s no con­crete proof you need to, but The Body Shop has proudly stated that 80% of its prod­ucts are paraben-free if you want to avoid them. Al­ready a com­mit­ted paraben-avoider? Stick to the prod­uct’s use-by date.


FOUND IN: Fruit and veg­eta­bles. WHAT ARE THEY? Pes­ti­cides are among the most tightly reg­u­lated chem­i­cals there are. A num­ber of the most dan­ger­ous are al­ready il­le­gal. Their re­place­ments are de­signed to break down quickly, tar­get only a spe­cific set of pests, and re­quire fewer ap­pli­ca­tions to have a last­ing ef­fect. “Pes­ti­cides are on a rolling re­view pro­gramme,” Boobis says. “If the com­pa­nies don’t pro­vide reg­u­lar safety data, their prod­ucts are taken off the ap­proved list and it is then il­le­gal for them to be sold.” The amounts of pes­ti­cides left on food have to meet lim­its set by the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion to en­sure they’re safe, and any im­ported foods have to con­form to the same rules.

SHOULD I WORRY? Yes and no – fresh food will have pes­ti­cide residues, but lev­els are so low our bod­ies can flush them out. But it’s bad news for the bees (who are cru­cial to our sur­vival, and hav­ing a tough time of it lately), as the Uni­ver­sity Of Cal­i­for­nia found pes­ti­cides are harm­ful to them and im­pair their abil­ity to for­age.

CAN I SWERVE THEM? You don’t need to worry, but give your body a help­ing hand at flush­ing out any lin­ger­ing pes­ti­cides by mak­ing sure you con­sume plenty of fil­tered wa­ter and fi­bre. And wash your fresh pro­duce – though pes­ti­cides are usu­ally in­side the fruit, this will help elim­i­nate any other nas­ties hang­ing around your salad.

“Some pes­ti­cides are al­ready il­le­gal”

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