From bowls and cling wraps to water bottles, lunch boxes, and storage containers, plastic can be found everywhere today. And while many parents are aware of the fact that plastic does more harm than good, they are confused about minimising the effect of plastic on their children’s diet. In other words, you might be wondering if the exposure of your child’s food to plastic containers and other objects is safe. And if it is not safe, you need to know what you can do about it.

Research states that chemicals present in plastic can leach out onto your kid’s food and cause a plethora of health problems like metabolic disorders, obesity, heart diseases, liver toxicity, and poor fertility. When plastic is heated, the leaching is faster. Hence, microwaving food in a plastic container is harmful. Read on to understand plastics better and to make better choices when it comes to your kid’s diet.

Why are plastics harmful?

There are different kinds of plastic available, based on their composition, like polypropylene, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polycarbonate. These contain a variety of chemicals like plasticizers, antioxidants, and colorants. Prolonged exposure to even small quantities of such chemicals can lead to a variety of long-term health complications.

Pregnant women and foetuses are the ones at higher risk as these chemicals can even cross the placenta and harm the foetus. Among such chemicals, the most harmful ones are phthalates and BPA, both of which interfere with the human hormones.

More about BPA

If you are keen to know about chemicals in food and their effects, knowing about BPA is a must. ‘BPA free' is a term that is often used on the water bottles and plastic containers offered by reputed manufacturers. BPA or Bisphenol A is a type of chemical that is used for hardening plastic food containers and for preventing corrosion of metal cans. It has a very harmful oestrogen-mimicking chemical that causes early puberty, lower sperm count, increases your child’s risk of diabetes, obesity, and breast, ovarian, testicular, and prostate cancers.

Some studies also show that even BPA-free plastic bottles can be harmful. Bisphenol S and Bisphenol F are the replacements used for BPA. And high BPS levels in the body can cause weight gain. However, unlike BPA, they do not leach onto foods when you heat the container. Remember that BPA-free does not necessarily imply chemical-free, although more research is needed in this area. The best way out is to avoid these kinds of chemicals completely and opt for glass or aseptic tetra pack packages for foods. You can use stainless steel utensils as well. Most importantly, never heat food in any kind of plastic container.

Other plastic chemicals you should know about  

Phthalates are used to make vinyl plastics flexible and soft. They are extensively used in food processing equipment, toys and materials, vinyl building products, medical devices, etc. Phthalates are toxins that affect both males and females, but, women are more exposed to it because of its use in many cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, and body washes.

Heating foods in plastic containers in microwaves can release the chemicals in the plastic and affect the quality of foods. Fatty foods, especially meats and cheese, tend to absorb high amounts of these chemicals. Even if your kid’s food is not heated in a microwave, chemicals can seep into the food if it is stored in plastic containers and subjected to even a little heat or sunlight.

Acidic foods like tomatoes can absorb chemicals from the linings of food cans too. Moreover, vinyl or plastics used in homes or offices can release gases containing chemicals like phthalates, over a period of time. Similarly, plastic vapours can also introduce chemicals into the food if you use a plastic spatter lid over the bowl, in a microwave.

Teflon and almost all non-stick cookware items release toxic chemicals during their manufacturing, disposal, and when they are used at very high temperatures. To avoid this, do not heat your non-stick cookware to a high temperature and do not put it in an oven at above 500 degree Celsius. Cast iron cookware is always safer. It is impossible to eliminate plastic completely from your child’s diet, but, what you can do is avoid heating food in any kind of plastic container in the microwave. Also, don’t buy products stored in plastic containers from the stores.

More tips to avoid plastic

There are millions of tonnes of plastic waste generated every year, adding harmful chemicals to our daily diet. Only 7% of this waste is recycled. Some ways to reduce plastic waste are:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, and if you must, use stainless steel.
  2. Use a reusable produce bag which can be washed and used again.
  3. Instead of bottles, buy boxes of products like detergents, as cardboard is recycled more easily than plastic.
  4. Buy products like cereals, pasta, rice etc. in bulk and keep them in a reusable bag or a tin container.
  5. Carry your own containers when you want to order a takeaway.
  6. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters.
  7. Avoid frozen foods as they are usually packaged in plastic.
  8. Do not use any plastic ware at home.
  9. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers for your babies.
  10. Encourage your child to eat a fresh fruit or make him a juice yourself, instead of buying packaged juices in plastic bottles.
  11. Pack your kid's lunch in reusable containers made of steel.

Now that you know how plastic can harm you as well as your child, by releasing chemicals into everyday foods, it’s time to make changes. So, shop for food and other items responsibly, and avoid storing or heating edibles in plastic containers.