While healthier choices at cafés and restaurants are becoming increasingly available, a new study suggests dining out may be more harmful than expected.
A team of researchers at UC Berkeley School of Public Health derived data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 2005-2014) to conduct the study.
10,253 study participants were asked to document what they had eaten during the previous 24 hours, and where the food came from. Then, each of the participant’s urinary spot samples were evaluated for phthalate break-down products.
The team found that 61 percent of the participants reported dining out the previous day, suggesting over two-thirds of the American population eat out at least once a day. (1)
Those who reported consuming more restaurant food, fast food and cafeteria food were found to have 35% higher phthalate levels than those who ate mostly home-cooked food. (1)
What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in packaged or processed food. These are foods that have been:
- Stored or shipped in plastic containers
- Wrapped with plastic wrap
- Handled with latex gloves
- Processed in manufacturing facilities
Consuming packaged and processed foods will increase the accumulation risk of phthalates. Don’t be fooled by the prices on the menu, even high-end restaurants store food or receive shipped foods in plastic containers. (2,4)
Phthalates have been linked to allergies, loose bowel function, coughing, itching, headaches, endocrine and hormonal issues, as well as reproductive developmental and fertility concerns. (1-5)
Children and adolescents are at the highest risk for accumulating phthalates, which can affect their reproductive development and hormonal activity. (3)
The study found: (1,6)
- Pregnant women, children, and teens to be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals. It’s important to find ways to limit their exposure.
- The association between phthalate exposure and dining out was significant for all age groups, but the magnitude of association was highest for teenagers.
- Adolescents—who were high consumers of fast food and other food purchased outside the home—had 55 percent higher phthalates levels compared to those who only consumed food at home.
- Certain foods, and especially cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, were associated with increased levels of phthalates, but only if they were purchased at a fast food outlet, restaurant or cafeteria.
- Sandwiches consumed at fast food outlets, restaurants or cafeterias were associated with 30 percent higher phthalate levels in all age groups.
According to this study, the worst offenders were the fast food restaurants.
Hint: If employees are wearing latex gloves to serve or handle the food, this is a red flag.
Many of us go out to eat because we think it’s quick, easy, mess-less. Whatever your reason may be, whenever possible, I strongly suggest you consider planning and preparing meals at home.
When you do eat out, choose wisely. Sometimes for just a few extra dollars, you can spare yourself of unwanted toxins.
Time-Tested Ayurvedic Home Cooking Wisdom
- Select organic foods and shop in a peaceful, calm, and joyful manner. If those words don’t exactly resonate with your usual grocery store adventure, in most places, there are now online grocery ordering systems where you can be extra specific about your choices and shed the stress from the mass-marketing grocery store environment.
- Eat foods that are in-season. Sign up to receive my free monthly seasonal eating guide.
- Prepare more soups and stews in the winter, root teas and leafy greens in the spring, and fruit and veggies in the summer.
- In the winter, cook your foods well. In the spring, cook or boil roots and lightly cook greens. In the summer, lightly steam veggies and eat more salads.
- Cook foods on low heat for a longer period of time.
- Increase heat slowly, rather than quickly boiling. Avoid shocking the food.
- Select non-processed, non-packaged foods. Cook from scratch whenever possible.
- Avoid canned, frozen, freeze-dried, microwaved foods.
- Cook with stainless steel, iron pots and pans. Avoid non-stick pans.
- Avoid leftovers.
- Always cook in a peaceful, calm state of mind.
- Keep kitchen clean, sacred and separate from other activities.
- Do not allow distractions or negative thoughts while cooking or preparing food.
- Do not nibble on food while cooking it.
- Set a table, so the meal can be enjoyed in a peaceful environment.
- Designate a server for the meal who can eat after the food is served.