You've heard it all before: Fast food is full of unwanted salt, fat, and sugar. But now you're probably also hearing about how it contains an alarming amount of phthalates—additives that make plastic more flexible. Wait, what? Plastic? That's not supposed to be in food.
In a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, more than 8,000 people were asked to recall their food intake during a 24-hour period. The researchers, who were from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, then analyzed that data along with urine samples from the group. In the urine of subjects who ate the most fast food, the researchers found remnants of the breakdown of two different kinds of phthalates—up to nearly 40 percent more than what they found in the urine from people who didn't eat fast food at all. Phthalates are used in the packaging and manufacturing process of fast food, which is presumably the entry point for these unnatural stowaways. The study authors also found that meats and grain products such as pizza, rice, noodles, and bread were the biggest phthalates culprits.
So, why should you care? Besides the fact that eating plastic is probably not too appetizing, these industrial chemicals have been linked to reproductive problems from infertility to IQ and behavioral issues in children exposed to these chemicals from the womb. Not to mention, they were also banned in 2008 from the materials used to make children's toys.
If you still can't resist your favorite fast food joint, even knowing that your meal might come with a "side" of chemicals, at least try to choose the most nutritious option on the menu. Here, some tips on making the right choice when faced with the drive-through:
- Choose foods that are grilled, baked, roasted, or steamed. This eliminates fat and calories from breading and frying.
- Choose smaller portions or items from a "less than 500 calories" section. For ideas, check out these 30 Surprisingly Healthy Fast Foods.
- Reduce salt by choosing vegetarian meals like salads, oatmeal, or a fruit and yogurt parfait. The 30 Worst Fast-Food Restaurant Choices are all guilty due in part to excess salt.
- Watch out for sneaky sodium-bombs such as chili, and don't ignore high-calorie additions such as salad dressing, bacon, cheese, or sour cream. Toppings can quickly turn any relatively healthy dish into a diet disaster.