With plastics, and the chemicals associated with them, so prevalent in our world, it’s not surprising that much of our food is contaminated by plasticizers (see previous post). So what do you do to reduce these chemicals in your diet?
The best approach is to eliminate all processed food. But that’s not always possible. A better approach is to take a look at your diet to find out where you’re getting the most processed food or ingredients. Focus on those and make are some substitutions to reduce phthalates in your diet without giving up all of the foods you love.
In this post, I’ve come up with several examples of recipe hacks where I’ve replaced the most processed ingredient in the original recipe with a less- or un-processed version. I’ve also flagged other ingredients in the recipes for substitution, because they too may be contaminated by plasticizers or because they contain added ingredients that may also be unhealthy. The three examples are:
- Cheesy boxes of quick-cook pasta, so popular with kids (and quite a few adults)
- Pasta salad
- Smoothies that contain protein powders
The first recipe hack is boxed macaroni and cheese. A recent study (1) showed higher levels of phthalates in the powdered cheese than in real cheese, though they measured some in samples of that as well. It’s not a surprise that food like cheese would have phthalates, since plastic is likely present in milking operations, as well as cheese-making machinery and packaging. But cheese is less processed than the packaged powder in boxed mac and cheese products.
- Recipe hack for boxed mac and cheese? Make a cheese sauce the old fashioned way by making a roux (oil or butter with flour) then adding cheese that you’ve shredded. Let the sauce cool and pour single servings into a wax-paper-lined cupcake pan (make sure you have enough wax paper to fully wrap the cheese sauce. Freeze. I’ll use a plastic bag or large glass container to store the wax-paper-wrapped sections until you’re ready to make a batch of mac and cheese.
- Note – this just reduces the phthalates in the cheese product, not the oil, flour, or macaroni.
The second example of a recipe that I’ve altered is the pre-made greek pasta salad that comes with spinach, feta, onions and one of my favorites, orzo pasta. But the presence of a highly processed pasta wasn’t the healthiest and made me wonder about what else was being introduced to my diet.
- Instead of processed orzo pasta, use unprocessed wheat berries in the recipe (they take longer to cook – I start them while I’m making breakfast).
- Add in more unprocessed ingredients like spinach and tomatoes.
- Replace bottle vinaigrette dressing (which may contain unhealthy ingredients) with a home-made oil and vinegar dressing seasoned with garlic and herbs.
- Note – feta cheese will likely contain phthalates. You can just leave it out or sprinkle in less.
Finally, the third recipe hack focuses on protein powders used for smoothies, which are intended to be super healthy but can contain ingredients that are anything but (2) and are heavily processed. I started making green smoothies for breakfast several years ago. For the first several months, I used a commercial protein powder that contained sweeteners and many other ‘interesting’ ingredients. Beyond the fact that it didn’t taste very good, I also cringed a bit as I read the list of ingredients. I decided to seek out a ‘cleaner’ product. I found a pea protein powder that had no other listed ingredients and switched to that. But just as higher levels of phthalates are present in powdered cheese than the real deal, I realized that pea protein powder is far removed from just plain peas. I tried putting peas in the smoothie but they tended to wind up at the bottom in a green sludge. Yuck. It occurred to me that the nut butter and milk that I used in the smoothie might provide enough protein without the processed protein powder and they did. I’ve never looked back.
- My morning smoothie recipe is now much less processed (for a sweeter smoothie, add half a banana):
- spinach or other greens
- ground flax seeds
- a tablespoon of nut butter
- spices (turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger)
- soy or nut milk.
Bottom line to reduce phthalates in your diet: skip heavily processed powders or ingredients and use as much ‘real’ food as possible.