A home-cooked meal has many benefits, including healthier ingredients and fewer processed foods.
In a new study, researchers found there’s another reason to avoid eating out all the time.
They found preparing meals at home can reduce the exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals that are commonly found in take-out and fast-food packaging.
The research was conducted by a team at Silent Spring Institute.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of chemicals widely used in an array of nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.
Food crops and livestock can also contain PFAS through exposure to contaminated soil and water.
PFAS has been linked with numerous health effects including cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility.
Because the chemicals are ubiquitous and exposures are widespread in the population, scientists are concerned about the health risks.
In the study, the team analyzed data from 10,106 participants in the United States.
The participants had answered detailed questions about their diet, recalling what they ate over four different time scales—in the previous 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, and 12 months.
The participants had also provided blood samples that had been analyzed for a number of different PFAS chemicals.
The researchers found that people who ate more meals at home had significantly lower levels of PFAS in their bodies.
The vast majority (90%) of these meals consisted of food purchased at a grocery store.
The researchers also found that people who consumed more microwave popcorn had significantly higher levels of PFAS, most likely the result of the chemicals leaching out of the popcorn bags.
Four PFAS chemicals that were detected in the participants’ blood samples and that were associated with eating more popcorn have previously been detected in microwave popcorn bags, the researchers note.
In contrast, people who consumed more fast food or ate more frequently at restaurants, including pizza places, tended to have higher levels of PFAS in their bodies.
This suggests that fast food and food from other restaurants is more likely to be contaminated with PFAS, which may be due to greater contact with PFAS-containing food packaging.
This is the first study to observe a link between different sources of food and PFAS exposures in the U.S. population.
The results suggest the migration of PFAS chemicals from food packaging into a food can be an important source of exposure to these chemicals
The team says the general conclusion is the less contact your food has with food packaging, the lower your exposures to PFAS and other harmful chemicals.
One author of the study is Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., an environmental chemist at Silent Spring.
The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
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