Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Week 12, Dangerous Plastic?

I had bathed the girls and put them to bed. Having survived the bedtime routine fairly unscathed (only two books with my oldest), I was looking forward to a little "me" time before heading to bed myself. I sat down at the computer to check my emails, when it happened. I had received the dreaded "mommy alert" email. For those unfamiliar, this is a new phenomenon since the advent of the internet. The email usually contains a dire warning of some sort and has been passed from mom-to-mom with an "I don't know if it's true, but...." intro of some sort. The purpose of these emails is usually very straightforward: You and your family are at risk, heed this advice or else.

The subject: " Warning on Water Bottles". The content: "From John Hopkins : Bottled Water in your car is very dangerous! On the Ellen Show, Sheryl Crow said this is what caused her breast cancer. It has been identified as the most common cause of the high levels of dioxin in breast cancer tissue.
Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car, because the heat reacts with chemicals in the plastics of the bottle which releases dioxin into the water. Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue...........This information is also being circulated at Water Reed Army Medical Center: No plastic containers in the microwave. No plastic wrap in the microwave. Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don't freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic."

Admittedly, my paranoid-mommy radar normally runs on high alert. I had heard about the possible dangers in plastic before, but I had never taken the time to do any research on the topic. I forwarded the email to all of my friends and family, cleared my cupboards of any plastic containers, and threw out all my sippy-cups - then sat down at the computer to do some work. (In all fairness, the email I received was from my very sweet, intelligent, level-headed sister-in-law.)

The concern over harmful chemicals in plastics began in 2008 when a report was issued from the National Toxicology Program (the NTP is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.hhs.gov) which stated that bisphenol A (BPA, a chemical used to make certain plastics found in various products such as food storage containers, baby bottles, water bottles and the lining of soft drink and food cans) could "possibly" affect human development and reproduction. Studies and tests show that trace amounts of BPA are leaching from polycarbonate containers into the liquids and foods that we consume. The question becomes whether or not these chemicals have any adverse affects on the human body. The NTP's research focused on rat pups. These rodents were exposed to high doses of BPA which was administered either through injection or food. As a result, changes were found in both the mammary and prostate glands suggesting a potential cancer risk. In some tests of female mice, exposure appeared to accelerate puberty.

The NTP report went on to say that, in these high-dose animal tests, administered doses of BPA were "far in excess of the highest estimated daily intakes of BPA in children...adults...or workers". NTP's final report concluded that more research is needed on BPA and that there is some concern that BPA can cause developmental and hormonal problems in infants and kids. Although the report is based on animal studies, the group says that BPA's risks to humans cannot be totally ruled out.

How much BPA are we exposed to? The typical adult ingests an estimated 1 microgram of BPA for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Babies who use polycarbonate bottles and formula from cans get more, an estimated 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. To put this into perspective, consider this: a single M&M is about one gram. If you cut it into 100,000 slices, once slice would equal 10 micrograms. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " A Hard Plastic is Raising Hard Questions": The New York Times, April 22, 2008). According to the Bisphenol-
A website, http://www.bishpenol-a.org: "A person would have to consume more the 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate or more than 500 pounds of canned food and beverages every day for a lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the US Environmental Protection Agency". Still, there remains concern about the safety to children and pregnant women when exposed to this chemical.

In reaction to this report many authorities did weigh in with claims that BPA is a safe product when used for many household functions, such as storing food, and in baby bottles. According to a fact-sheet created by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), "The use of polycarbonate plastic for food contact application continues to be recognized as safe by regulatory authorities worldwide." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently issued this statement: "The FDA has confidence that no safety concern exists for BPA in regulated food contact materials. Furthermore, the FDA has determined that the use of polycarbonate-based baby bottles and BPA-based epoxy coated cans used to hold infant formula is safe." (Source: statement from the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety by biologist Julie N. Mayer, M.F.S.). The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis also chimed in: "In the case of BPA, the evidence considered by the panel suggests that the weight of the evidence for low-dose effects is very weak." (Source: Cohen, Joshua and Gray, George. "Weight of Evidence Evaluation of Low-Dose Reproduction and Developmental Effects of Bishphenol-A.")

While most research has focused on children and pregnant women, a study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association raises safety questions for all adults. The study, released in 2008, was based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adults. It found that those with higher levels of BPA in their urine reported higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. In a separate study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov) found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of urine samples collected from more than 2,500 adults and children over age 6.

A 2008 study funded by grants from the NIH, the Department of Defense and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation found that when breast cancer cells were subjected to low levels of BPA, similar to those found in the blood of adults, it inhibited the effects of chemotherapy. They found that BPA acts in the same way that estrogen does - by activating proteins that protect the cells from chemotherapy agents. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " Plastic Chemical May Interfere with Chemotherapy": The New York Times, October 9, 2008). Findings in this study may help to explain why chemotherapy appears to be less effective in some cancer patients.

And if you aren't confused enough yet with all of the conflicting data, the NIH website (www.nih.gov) said this: "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information. More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development, but at this point we can't dismiss the possibility that the effects we're seeing in animals may occur in humans. If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA." (Michael Shel, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.)

Plastic is one of the more remarkable inventions of the 20th century. Our reliance on plastic not only insures the ease of our daily lives, but also the safety. Think of the last time your plastic ketchup bottle fell out of the fridge. We come in contact with some form of plastic hundreds of times during a normal day. So, how do you know what products contain BPA and how to limit your exposure to them?

Any product made of hard, clear plastic is probably made from polycarbonate unless it specifically states that it is BPA-free. Some polycarbonate plastic bottles have the numeral 7 in a triangle stamped on the bottom of the container. However, 7 is a catchall "other" category for a variety of plastics. If it is a soft and pliable plastic, more than likely it is not a polycarbonate. Refillable water bottles, which are usually hard and shatterproof, are made from polycarbonate unless otherwise specified.

According to the FDA, 17% of the American diet comes out of a can. Virtually every canned product, has a liner with BPA. However one brand, Eden Organic Baked Beans, claims its cans are BPA-free.

Until further research is done, the simplest way to limit your exposure is to switch to frozen or fresh vegetables. Use glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers, particularly for hot foods and liquids. Try to avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers and substitute a wet paper towel for plastic wrap when re-heating. Several companies sell BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups, including the popular brand Born Free. Ultimately, make the decision that you are most comfortable with and best suits you and your family's needs.


Recipes for the week: Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Cumin Spiced Carrots, Pasta with White Clam Sauce, Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup, Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction

Items Already in the Pantry or Fridge:
mayo,cumin, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, honey, salt, black pepper, unsalted butter, Parmesan cheese, flour, dry white wine, balsamic vinegar, dried rosemary, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal, milk, 1 egg, cooking oil, ground red pepper, apple juice

Shopping List**
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1 bulb of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 medium tomato
1 red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce
1 bunch of carrots
2-6 1/2 oz cans of minced clams
10 oz of linguine
1 3/4 cups of half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
2 medium onion
1 bunch of fresh parsley
1 cup dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch celery
1/2 cup of frozen whole kernel corn
fresh chives (enough to garnish)
1-8 oz container of sour cream
1 pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 cup of cranberry juice

**Most recipes are for 4-6 servings. If you are making more, or less, you will need to adjust the shopping list accordingly**

Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Burgers with Cumin Spiced Carrots ( serves 6)

4 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp cumin
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of mayo
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 avocado
1 medium tomato sliced
slices of red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce

Combine the juice of 2 limes, honey, soy sauce, cumin, garlic and black pepper in small bowl. Place chicken into a shallow baking dish and cover the chicken with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine the mayo, juice of 1 lime, cayenne pepper and cilantro in a small bowl. Set aside.

The chicken can either be cooked on the grill outside, on the stove in a grill pan or in the oven at 400 degree for about 20 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Serve on Kaiser rolls and garnish with the mayo mixture, slices of avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce.

Cumin Spiced Carrots:
4 medium carrots cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tbsp of butter (unsalted)
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Place the carrots into a medium pot, cover with water and bring to a bowl. Cook until slightly tender. Drain. In a pan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook until tender. Serve alongside the burgers.

Pasta with White Clam Sauce (serves 4)

10 oz linguine
2-6 1/2 cans minced clams
1 3/4 cups half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
1 medium chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine*
1/4 cup Parmesean cheese

Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until tender but not brown. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Add the half and half, 1 bottle of the clam juice. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Stir in the clams, fresh oregano, parsley and wine. Heat through. Serve over hot pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

*Non alcoholic wine is available in some stores.

Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup (6 servings)

1 cup of dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of ground red pepper
4 cloves of garlic minced
8 oz sour cream
chopped chives for garnish

Corn Cakes:
2 tbsp of flour
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup boiling water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 red pepper chopped
1/4 cup of sweet onion chopped
1 slightly beaten egg
3 tbsp cooking oil

To make the soup:Rinse the beans. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven combine beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand for 1 hour. Or place beans and water in a pan. Cover, and let them soak in a cook place for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans.

Return beans to saucepan. Stir in two cups of water, the broth, onion, celery, cilantro, salt, red pepper and garlic. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 1-1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.

Remove approximately 1/3 of soup and transfer to a blender. Holding the lid on the blender down tightly, process the soup until smooth. Add back to the saucepan. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chopped chives.

To prepare the corn cakes: In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine add the boiling water to the corn meal, stir to make a stiff mush. Stir in the milk until smooth. Add the corn, red pepper, onion and egg. Add flour mixture until well combined.

In a large skillet heat the 2 tbsp of cooking oil over medium heat. Drop the batter by rounded tbsp into the hot oil, making 6 cakes. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the black bean soup.

Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction (serves 4)
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/4 apple juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Slice the tenderloin lengthwise, almost all of the way through, making a pocket. Set aside.

In a large skillet cook the spinach in a small amount of water just until wilted; drain well. In a small bowl combine the wilted spinach, artichoke hearts, cheese and rosemary. Spoon spinach mixture into the pocket in the tenderloin (filling will be exposed). Place in a shallow roasting pan, stuffing side up. Roast in a 435 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into meat registers 160 degrees.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan combine the apple and cranberry juices with the balsamic vinegar. Bring to boiling. Boil gently about 15 minutes or until the mixture measure 1/3 cup. Spoon the juice reduction over the tenderloin during the last 10 minutes of roasting. To serve bias-slice the pork. Serve with a garden salad.

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