For those of you who remain unconvinced that the value of home cooking goes beyond the cost savings, please be aware of the effects that processed food packaging can have on all of us, especially on infants and children.

An increasing body of research has suggested that obesity may be associated with (triggered by? exacerbated by? caused by?) so-called “obesogens” in our environment, such as known endocrine disruptor Bisphenol-A (aka BPA).

Take the example of green beans.  Say you are a Kartini Clinic parent and trying to follow our meal plan, which includes a lot of vegetables.  From our Parent Manual, you’ll also know that we recommend the use of fresh vegetables. But why “fresh” and not canned?

You could buy fresh green beans and cook them (preparation to wash and cut about two minutes; cooking about the same or perhaps a bit more, say five minutes) or you could open a plastic bag of frozen green beans or a can of green beans, admittedly somewhat faster (by about 2-4 minutes).  So what’s the difference?

In an article in 2009 Consumer Reports decided to do some of their famous sleuthing and reported:  “The highest levels of BPA in our tests were found in the canned green beans and canned soup.”

Just great.  That’s the end of canned green beans for us Kartini folks.

They further found:  “A 165-pound adult eating one serving of canned green beans from our sample, which averaged 123.5 ppb, could ingest about 0.2 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, about 80 times higher than our experts' recommended daily upper limit. And children eating multiple servings per day of canned foods with BPA levels comparable to the ones we found in some tested products could get a dose of BPA approaching levels that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies.”

And then, just so you know, although neither Kartini pediatricians - nor hardly any other pediatricians I am aware of  - are big fans of juices:  “Given the significance of BPA exposure for infants and young children, we tested samples of Similac Advance Infant Formula and Nestlé Juicy Juice All Natural 100% Apple Juice. Samples of the Similac liquid concentrate in a can averaged 9 ppb of BPA, but there was no measurable level in the powdered version. Samples of the Nestlé Juicy Juice in a can averaged 9.7 ppb BPA, but there were no measurable levels in the samples of the same product packaged in juice boxes. Although BPA levels in that canned juice were not among the highest in the foods we tested, canned juice can account for a substantial amount of dietary BPA exposure in children who drink a lot of it. Drinking three servings per day of canned apple juice with BPA levels comparable to the levels found in our samples could result in a dose of BPA that is more than our experts' daily upper limit.”

But the story is even more frustratingly nuanced than that.  One can of beans is not necessarily equal to another.  Brands differ.  For a list of which cans do and do not contain BPA see this site.

A look at frozen food plastic packaging by Consumer Reports and others revealed BPA in many, but not all, and at lower levels than in canned food -- although all bets were off if the food was cooked or reheated in the plastic.

So much for frozen green beans for us.

The Europeans have banned the use of BPA’s in all packaging that comes into contact with food.  Our FDA was asked to do the same.  An article in Forbes magazine reported on these efforts and suggested that exposure to obesogens like BPA could be eliminated from our children’s environment (and our own) with just such a relatively simple ban.  I mean, if obesity and diabetes are the raging problems everyone reports them to be, think what’s at stake.

It is not enough to fix our food at home, it turns out; it’s also important to use fresh ingredients, to the extent possible.  

Again, Consumer Reports, their final recommendations, with which I heartily concur:

  • Choose fresh food whenever possible.

  • Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.

  • Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.

It’s about the kids, of course, but when it comes to an environment polluted with endocrine disruptors and obesogens, it’s about the rest of us, too.