New study uncovers the potential presence of phthalates in packaged Macaroni and Cheese
Who doesn’t love macaroni and cheese? That delectable, gooey sauce atop tasty pasta has been a staple for thousands, nay, millions of Americans for decades. Baseball, apple-pie, and mac n’ cheese… is anything more patriotic? Truly, a classic American comfort food. With all this in mind, one might be shocked to learn that, according to a study by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, the iconic dish, in its packaged form, could contain harmful quantities of the toxic chemical phthalates.
Phthalates are a plasticizing chemical that have been partially phased out of production over recent years, as multiple studies linked them to potential health issues. They are not used directly in food production, but they can be found in packaging. Food packaging is a relatively unregulated sector, and phthalates have been known to seep into products housed in plastic-based packaging. They have been linked to male genital birth defects as well as brain development issues, especially when consumed by children.... and who loves mac n’ cheese more than kids? Phthalates also may cause infant birth defects if absorbed by pregnant women, especially in baby boys; the chemical also may interfere with male hormone production.
This is troubling news; after all, upwards of two million boxed mac n’ cheese products are sold every single day in the United States. What’s worse is that these high concentrations seem to be found in nearly every mac n’ cheese product tested; 29 out of 30 cheese products examined in the study contained phthalates. The New York Times spoke to Mike Belliveau, the executive director of Environmental Health Strategy Center, who helped fund the study, for their recent story ("The Chemicals in your Mac and Cheese," July 12th, 2017):
Our belief is that it’s in every mac ‘n’ cheese product — you can’t shop your way out of the problem,” said Mr. Belliveau, who is urging consumers to contact manufacturers and pressure them to investigate how phthalates are getting into their products and take steps to eliminate it. Nine of the cheese products tested were made by Kraft, which makes most of the macaroni and cheese products sold, though the group did not disclose the names of specific products tested. Officials with Kraft did not respond to requests for comment on the report and its findings."
Now, it’s worth noting that this study is fresh-out and relatively preliminary, as Today reports in "Packaged Mac and Cheese May Come with Unhealthy Chemicals," July 17th, 2017:
...the report wasn't published in a peer-reviewed journal and it doesn't specify how the levels found in mac and cheese compare with what has been reported to be a problem in scientific articles. Experts didn't think the report's results should be sensationalized, but suggested that the new data adds to our understanding of how hormone-disrupting chemicals are linked to human health.”
As such, it certainly doesn’t mean we should automatically designate all macaroni and cheese products as poison, especially since the health risks potentially posed by phthalates are also unconfirmed. However, until more research is done it might be wise to avoid boxed mac, as tragic as that may be. But all is not lost! You can still get your fix of the staple. Why not make some delectable homemade macaroni and cheese from the huge variety of healthy recipes available online? Alternatively, chains like Lemonade can provide quick, delicious and healthy macaroni dishes. These options allow you to have a better idea of what you are putting into your body, and overall help contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Bottom line; it’s always a good idea to limit your intake of heavily processed, packaged foods and opt for healthier, more natural options.
- The Chemicals in your Mac and Cheese via New York Times
- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese: A History via Chicago Tribune
- Packaged Mac and Cheese May Come With Unhealthy Chemicals via Today
- Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really? via The Guardian
- Phthalates via the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
PHOTO: by Mike Mozart via Creative Commons