Pediatricians are concerned about the dangers of food additives for pregnant women and children…finally. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) dropped a bomb on the food industry and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) this week citing concerns about the safety of food additives and ways they are evaluated and approved. They are concerned about the numerous studies linking certain food additives to chronic diseases, hyperactivity, cancers, hormone disruption, obesity & improper development. The AAP stated that “urgently needed reforms” are needed immediately to protect children and some of these reforms will need congressional action in order to take place. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover themes like 16 natural remedies to help hyperactive children, 10 reasons your kids shouldn’t drink soda, & safe ingredients to use with STEM projects, now join us as we explore food additives, the FDA and how you can protect your family from dangerous chemicals in commerce.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
The Chemicals Pediatricians Are Concerned About Around Children
The additives the American Academy of Pediatrics is most concerned about based on mounting evidence of harm include the following:
- Bisphenols, such as BPA or BPS, which is used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans. Bisphenols can act like estrogen in the body and potentially change the timing of puberty, increase body fat, decrease fertility, and affect the nervous and immune systems. BPA is currently banned in baby bottles and sippy cups, however, BPS is not banned yet.
- Phthalates, which makes plastic and vinyl tubes flexible. This chemical has the ability to affect male genital development, such as the distance between the anus and the penis, increase childhood obesity, and is linked with heart disease. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of certain (not all) phthalates in child-care products such as teething rings. It would be best to avoid the use of all phthalates around children out of precaution.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging like pizza boxes. This class of chemicals is linked to a reduction in immunity, lower birth weight, and decreased fertility. Research also shows PFCs may affect the thyroid system, which is key to metabolism, digestion, brain development, muscle control and bone strength.
- Perchlorate, is a chemical that is added to dry food packaging to control static electricity. It’s a known hormone disruptor that has the ability to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.
- Artificial food colors, common in children’s food products, may be associated with worsened attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies cited in the report found a significant number of children who cut synthetic food colorings from their diets showed decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Nitrates/nitrites are used to preserve food and enhance color, especially in cured and processed meats. These chemicals can interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen in the body. Nitrates and nitrites also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.
How the FDA Puts Your Family In Danger
It’s taken years, but the American Academy of Pediatrics are finally backing up what independent scientists have been saying all along–the way the FDA evaluates chemicals is faulty and potentially dangerous to public health, especially concerning pregnant women and small children. There are over 10,000 additives used to preserve, package or modify the texture, taste or nutrients in food. Many of these additives were grandfathered in as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) in the 1950s when the regulation was created to evaluate food additives. During this time over 1,000 additives were grandfathered without FDA approval or testing. Some of those additives and additional ones added since then are problematic according to the AAP. The AAP was very clear in saying that the FDA needed to reform how they do their job.
“There are critical weaknesses in the current food additives regulatory process, which doesn’t do enough to ensure all chemicals added to foods are safe enough to be part of a family’s diet,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, FAAP, an AAP Council on Environmental Health member and lead author of the policy statement. “As pediatricians, we’re especially concerned about significant gaps in data about the health effects of many of these chemicals on infants and children.”
Obviously, isn’t an ideal system when considering the health of your family. But these kinds of loopholes are commonplace when considering how chemicals are treated by the Feds. The AAP is calling for a more rigorous and transparent “Generally Recognized as Safe” designation process, including new requirements for toxicity testing before ingredients are unleashed into the marketplace. They also want previously approved chemicals that have been approved re-evaluated and re-tested using the same parameters.
“We need more research to better understand how food additives affect human health,” said AAP Council on Environmental Health Chairperson Dr. Jennifer Lowry, MD, FAAP. “Retesting is most important for the chemicals with increasing evidence of risks, but also those with safety data based on outdated testing methods or animal studies.” She points to a recent review of nearly 4,000 food additives found that 64 percent of them had had no research showing they were safe for people to eat or drink.
The “Generally Recognized as Safe”
In Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!), I refer to the GRAS program as the “Generally Recognized as Bullshit” program and here is an excerpt from the book that talks about the process of how food additives are approved under the loophole.
“Let’s pretend for a second that you are a chemical aching to become a useful and productive member of nation’s food supply. You need to get into one of three lines to receive approval under the GRAS program.
LINE NO. 1: Before you start, ask yourself if you were born before the year 1958. If you answered yes, congratulations! You are grandfathered into the system and zip right into the express lane, which puts you straight into the nation’s food supply. How very nice for you.
LINE NO. 2: If you love to do tons of paperwork, conduct legitimate scientific studies that are published in peer-reviewed science journals, hold a public comment period, and follow the spirit of the law, then this line is for you. What–no takers? Okay. Well, here’s the third option.
LINE NO. 3: Get in this line if you don’t want to bother with rigorous science. Just do up your own safety studies and notify the FDA that you want a review. You can involve legit scientists if you want but you don’t have to. The FDA has 120 days to do a complete review of whatever you give them, but it takes them about that long just to get ink into one of their printers, so chances are they won’t pull off a review in that time–and in that case, you’re good to go, because it means automatic approval is yours. And on the off chance the FDA gets their act together and denies your petition, don’t worry your pretty little chemical head because a) they are reviewing your safety studies that you did with people you paid to get the results you wanted, and b) even if they are about to reject your petition they will tell you beforehand so you can withdraw it before any news goes public. Then it’s like nothing ever happened–no one will ever know there were any questionable safety issues, not even when you try again and, one way or another eventually get approved.”
“Indirect Additives” Get Into Food From Packaging & Processing
Some additives are put directly into foods while other additives find their way into your food based on how it’s prepared and stored before you eat it. The later is what we are going to describe here. These additives are referred to as “indirect additives” and they are not labeled on products and companies don’t have to tell you where they are hiding. Indirect additives have the ability to leach into your food with heat, fat or acid. So that bowl of spaghetti sauce you heated up in the microwave was the trifecta of torment because it had heat from the microwave, combining with fat from the olive oil and then acid from the tomatoes working together to assist the chemicals inside your plastic bowl from leaching into your food. Yum! Numerous studies pointing to dangers of these chemicals are worrying pediatricians as to their safety around children and pregnant women.
Recent studies are looking into how we are exposed. One study published this year demonstrated that the more you eat out at restaurants the higher your level of phthalates are in your body, which is an endocrine-disrupting chemical. Phthalates, among other “indirect additive” chemicals, have been linked to obesity. Other common ways these dangerous chemicals find their way into our food is from plastic containers, the lining of metal cans, and grease-proof fast food paper. In fact, records from the FDA show there are over 3,000 such “indirect additives” that are approved for food contact materials.
How You Can Protect Your Family From Dangerous Chemicals in Food Additives
Some of the AAP’s recommendations may require congressional action. For example, the FDA currently lacks the authority it needs to review existing data on additives already on the market, or to re-test their safety for people to eat. In meantime, here are some safe and simple steps families can take to limit exposures to the chemicals of greatest concern. These include:
- Cooking your food from scratch at home reduces the amount of phthalates and other contaminants in the food you serve
- 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.
- Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher. The heat breaks down the plastic and then “indirect additives” leach into your food and beverages
- Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass, lead-free ceramic, & 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.
- Limit packaged foods with powdered processed cheese, because these dairy products are very high in phthalates
- Avoid fast food like the plague. The wrappers they use in fast food and fast casual food are coated with grease-proof chemicals that disrupt the thyroid.
Product Recommendations Lessening The Amount of Dangerous Chemicals Your Family is Exposed To
I know this is overwhelming, but don’t fear. Mamavation is here to help you! There are plenty of things you can swap out that will help you make your family safer.
- Does your child have a plastic lunch box? Here are the stainless steel lunchboxes we got the kids for school. They stack easily in the cupboard and are easy to put together in the morning.
- Does your child have a thermos for water? Here’s a stainless steel water bottle that keeps things VERY cold.
- Do you have plastic bowls at home? Have you ever put them into the dishwasher? TOSS THEM because they have already started to break down. I chucked mine for these wooden bowels instead. I love the rustic feel and they are perfectly safe for the dishwasher. If you are looking for something less expensive, there are ones made of coconuts and they come with spoons! If you don’t like the wooden look, opt for lead-free ceramic, glass or stainless steel.
- Looking for something to help you store food in? Try these stainless steel containers with silicone lids. And here are some glass ones that I also have. And if you are looking for something cheap and easy, nothing beats Mason jars.
- Looking for an alternative to zip lock bags for sandwiches and snacks? I love these recyclable paper sandwich bags from lunchskins.
- And how do you replace saran wrap? Try these reusable wraps from bees wraps. It’s basically cloth coated in beeswax that you can wash and then reuse over and over again. And do you just need to cover a bowl? Try these fabric bowl covers instead.
- And what about something more sturdy and less toxic than zips locks for snacks? Bumpkins has reusable snack bags of all shapes and sizes.
- And what about straws? Here are the best eco-friendly and non-toxic straws.
Mamavation also did an investigation on disposables items like cups, plates, cutlery and paper towels with the least amount of toxicity. And if you are also interested in food, check out our food investigations so you can find the best brands. We’ve also curated safer products for you in the shopping page with a drop-down menu where you can search for most shelf stable items on Amazon.
- Baby food
- Peanut butter
- Meal replacement bars and protein bars
- Protein powders
- Spaghetti sauce
- Frozen food
And for more information on how to lessen the impact that hormone-disrupting chemicals like the ones above have on the health of your family, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).