A few years ago, phthalate-free was the buzzword in infant toys and products. Thanks to some research that found that the plastic-softening chemicals might affect a growing child's reproductive system combined with a strong social media campaign, parents demanded a change and Congress - in a rare bipartisan move - quickly responded. Phthalates were banned from baby products in 2008. Victory was celebrated. And then the issue was pretty much forgotten.
But a new study is stirring up the phthalate pot, with questions about the phthalates that are found in the food our children eat. According to the research, which was published in the journal Environmental Health, children and infants who eat solid food may still be consuming twice as much in terms of phthalates as is deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Meats — poultry in particular — high fat dairy products such as whole milk and butter,and cooking oils and fats such as margarine all contain high levels of phthalates.
For the study, researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine, looked at the concentrations of phthalates in various types of food and then analyzed the phthalate concentrations that would be found in four different diet models: one high in fruits and vegetables, one high in meat and dairy, a balanced diet based on government guidelines and a typical American diet.
As you might expect, the diet based on fruits and veggies produced the lowest exposure to phthalates. On the opposite end of the spectrum, researchers found that the diet that was high in meat and dairy had unsafe phthalate levels for both children and adults. But what researchers found most surprising was that the diet they called the 'typical American diet,' had safe levels of phthalates for adults but far surpassed the level of 20 micrograms of phthalates deemed safe for infants and children.
How did all of these phthalates get into your baby's food? That will take more research to figure out for sure. But the study's authors suggest that phthalates may find their way into meats and poultry via their plastic packaging and possibly even the food given to the animals, whereas milk and dairy products may pick up phthalates from the plastic tubing used to transport the milk from the cow to the container. Fruits and veggies, on the hand, don't generally have this kind of exposure.
Bottom line: This is just another reason why your baby's diet should include as many fruits and veggies as possible. And when in doubt, buy foods that are packaged in paper or glass instead of plastic.
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- How strict should a child's healthy diet be?
- New study links phthalates to ADHD
5 tips for getting kids to eat vegetables