The real 'junk' in your fast food


Lifestyle, Health and Wellbeing

People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher.

The study appears in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Washington: As if we needed yet another reason to ditch fast food. Pointing out the dark side of our love affair with cheap-and-cheerful processed foods, a new study has revealed the presence of harmful chemicals in them.

People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study from Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Lead author Ami Zota noted that people who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher, adding that the findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.

Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.

Zota and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants. They had provided the researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates - DEHP and DiNP. They found that the more fast food participants in the study ate, the higher the exposure to phthalates.

The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Zota said that the grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles. She also notes that other studies have also identified grains as an important source of exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

But Zota noted that DEHP and DiNP are two phthalates still in use despite concerns that they leach out of products and get into the human body. Studies of the health impact of exposure to these chemicals have suggested they can damage the reproductive system and they may lead to infertility.

"People concerned about this issue can't go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food," Zota suggests. "A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates."

The study appears in Environmental Health Perspectives.