Are you cooking more at home and trying to find a balance between fresh ingredients and using canned foods?
I hear from many that you are.
Most of us use some canned foods each week, whether we open canned soup, vegetables, beans, or other foods.
Can we be harmed by using these products and are there other options to try just to be safe?
Let’s check out the facts and see what choices are best for us.
There are two primary concerns that many people have about canned foods. We will look at each one separately.
Aluminum is a metal found in the earth’s crust that is found combined with other elements not as a free substance.
Our exposure to aluminum is greater than you might think. We can be exposed by eating, drinking, breathing or skin contact with aluminum.
We come in contact with aluminum in our air, water and the foods we eat. How much ingested, your body’s excretion rate and how long your exposure was will determine your risk of toxicity.
The largest portion of our ingestion of aluminum comes from the foods we eat as so many products use a form of aluminum in their processing. We breathe in very little depending on our environment. City water treatment yields an aluminum content of 0.4-1 mg/L. Bottle water contains by regulation 0.2 mg/L of aluminum.
Aluminum is widely used in food products as:
- firming agent
- anti-caking agent (such as sugar and salt)
- emulsifying ingredient
- food coloring (such as bleaching agent in flour)
- beverage cans
- drinking water
Aluminum is also found in non-food products such as:
- antacids (104-208 mg aluminum)
- buffered aspirin (10-20 aluminum mg per tablet)
There is no known physiological need for aluminum. In the US we ingest on average 7-9 mg daily. We absorb only 0.3% of what we ingest. We excrete aluminum in our urine and stool.
At this point, there is no evidence of aluminum toxicity in healthy people, although people with kidney disease, on dialysis, receiving TPN or taking medications with aluminum may be at risk for ingesting excessive amounts. There is also no current research that validates any aluminum intake being related to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
We hear often about how food packed in cans is dangerous. In fact, most canned food is packed in steel cans with epoxy liners. Beverages are packaged in aluminum cans.
Liners in many canned foods are made from an epoxy that contains Bisphenol-A or BPA, which many environmental advocates feel is harmful to our health. Not only is BPA found in the epoxy of metal cans but is also found in plastic water bottles and bottle tops.
Food is our main route for ingesting BPA, but there is some exposure through air, dust and water. How much BPA leaches into the food from the container appears to be dependent on the temperature of the product.
The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been working to determine if there is any risk to humans of ingestion at certain amounts. It is currently accepted as safe by the FDA in the amounts at which we are presently exposed. They find that only at extremely high amounts is there some indication that estrogen receptors are affected. BPA acts like estrogen and has been linked to cancer.
Validated studies show that our intake of BPA is relatively low and our bodies can inactivate and eliminate it through our urine which is why it can be found in most of our urine samples.
How You Can Lower Your Risk
Even though our ingestion of aluminum and BPA is thought to be low at current levels of exposure and not a danger to healthy people who are not ingesting aluminum containing medications, you can lower your intake by following these tips:
- Use non-aluminum containing cookware, such as stainless steel, glass or anodized aluminum pots and pans
- Avoid baking powder with sodium aluminum sulfate and buy aluminum-free baking powder
- Avoid aluminum foil and to go containers made from aluminum
- Learn about your medications both prescription and over the counter
- Limit your use of aluminum containing antacids and buffered aspirin by following the label directions
- Don’t use cans as cookware, they are only designed to store and transport food!
- Look for canned foods that are BPA-free (there are lists online of cans without BPA)
- Buy foods packaged in glass, fresh or frozen
- Don’t microwave plastic food containers especially those with a recycle code of 3 or 7.
Personal Informed Decisions
The future of food manufacturing, with or without regulations to do so, will find that more companies will be seeking can liners that are BPA free for consumer satisfaction.
More research will be done by various agencies to verify or expose how much aluminum or BPA is safe for human consumption and actions taken to control our exposure from food sources.
We will all be on the lookout for more up to date and factual information upon which to decide our personal plan of action.
In the meantime, we should get as much accurate information about the health concerns of the food we ingest. To be good consumers and health advocates we know that not everything we read on the internet is true. Also some research can be suspect for cause and effect data versus simply correlational data, the study size or potential bias.
Since many people would rather be safe than sorry, learning as much as we can and then making informed decisions may lead you to voluntarily lower your exposure to aluminum and BPA.