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Is canned food harmful to your health?

Eating canned soup can cause the amount of BPA (bisphenol A) in the body to soar, compared to eating soup made with fresh ingredients, according to findings from the Harvard School of Public Health.

BPA, a widely-used chemical found in plastic and canned food packaging — is an endocrine disruptor that some researchers have linked to obesity, breast cancer, neurological disorders and more. Various sources state that a small amount of BPA in the body is OK but maintains that overall health effects are unclear.

Meanwhile, Canada has declared BPA a toxin, and Europe has banned BPA in baby bottles. The chemical is thought to be especially harmful to fetuses, infants and young children.

The soup study

To test the amount of BPA absorbed by the body, volunteer participants in the Harvard study ate a can of vegetarian soup each day for five days, while another group ate soup made from fresh ingredients. Then, BPA levels were measured in the participants' urine. For those who ate canned soup, their BPA levels were 1,200% higher compared to those who ate freshly-made soup. Time.com reports that the Harvard study, first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to measure how much BPA the body absorbs from canned food. Though the research zeroed in on canned soup, the results likely apply more broadly to other canned foods and beverages, according to Time.com.

Cabinet overhaul?

The study is part of a growing body of evidence that highlights the dangers of BPA. So, is it time to clear canned foods from the kitchen cabinets? We have to be realistic: especially for busy families, sometimes packaged foods are a necessity. Rather than recommending that parents overhaul their pantries, we hope that parents will read labels and do their own research to make sure the foods they are choosing are the safest possible.

Tips for going BPA-free

  • Look for food manufacturers that are making the shift to BPA-free packaging.
  • When choosing a refillable water bottle, choose one made of stainless steel, rather than plastic or coated aluminum. 
  • BPA is found on sales receipts from retailers, so wash your hands after shopping.
  • Because BPA is thought to be especially harmful to babies and children, choose BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups.

Note: Many companies have begun phasing out BPA in baby bottles and other plastic food containers in recent years to ease public anxieties, but it is still widely used in the linings of metal cans because it helps prevent corrosion and is resistant to high heat during the sterilization process. However, there is no information to confirm that this is the case in South Africa.