The thingÂ I hateÂ most aboutÂ shopping is not navigating a crowded storeÂ orÂ staring at my pasty reflection under the dressing room's harsh lighting. Nope, that stuff doesn't bother me.Â If you ask me, the most dreaded store moment isÂ watching the machine spit out a footlong receipt, and then swimming in awkwardness because no freakin' way am I touching that thing.
"Um, can you just toss that for me?" I always askâasÂ I backÂ away in horror.
"Sure," the cashier replies, frowning at my apparentÂ paper phobia.
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OK, so that's a slight dramatization, but it does accurately represent my feelings regarding receipts. My reason:Â they're coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that the National Toxicology Program deemed worthy of "some concern for effectsÂ on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures" after reviewing the research in 2008. Two studies just this year linkedÂ handling receipts to elevated levels of BPA in the body.
Previous research hasÂ shown an association betweenÂ BPA andÂ heart problems, as well asÂ asthma and obesity risk in children. And now, in aÂ study published this weekÂ in the journal Hypertension, South Korean researchers found that drinking from cans lined with the chemicalÂ may raise blood pressureÂ immediately.
The issue with BPA isn't just that its linked to health issuesâit's that it's so widely used in a variety of consumer productsÂ likeÂ car seats, food packaging, dental sealants, and electronics, to name a few, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Everyone is exposed to this chemical every day."
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Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contends that BPA "is safe at the current levels occurring in foods," that doesn't necessarily mean that the levels we're exposed to fromÂ allÂ our daily contact with itÂ are "entirely safe," Vandenberg says. "Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are especially vulnerable. The new study about blood pressure is a big dealÂ because it shows for the first time that there are measurable health effects in human adults."
All of this meansÂ that perhaps my over-the-top receipt anxiety isn't misplaced. If you're concerned about BPA, here are a few changes to makeÂ that really can put a dent in yourÂ exposure.
Skip canned goods when possible
The plastic that lines the inside of your can of beans or soup serves a very important purpose: without it, the can would corrode over time, allowing metals to leach in your food. The problem? The lining is made with BPA which can getÂ into your food, too. "The majority of the exposure is thought to happen this way," Vandenberg says. Some companies, like Amy's,Â Eden Organics, and Muir GlenÂ use BPA-free cans, but very few follow their lead because it's so much more expensive. Outside of those companies, this leaves you with few options other than choosing fresh whenever possible and looking for soups, broths, and tomato productsÂ packaged in glass jars or Tetra PaksÂ (aka those paperboard cartons).
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Don't microwave plastics
BPA helps make plastic materials hard and strong, so they keep their shape and don't break. "A lot of plastics say on them 'microwave-safe', but that only means it won't totally ruin the plastic," Vandenberg says. "It doesn't mean it's safe for you or your food." When microwaved,Â plastic food containers can break down from high temperatures, allowing more BPA or other chemicals into your food, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Put your leftovers in ceramic or glass before heating. (It's also a good idea to wait for food to cool before putting it in plastic containers.)
Say no to receipts
This is one of the easiest ways to limit BPA in your life: ask the cashier if she can skip printing one (this saves her the exposure, too) and press "No" at the ATM or gas station. Simply touching a receipt allows your skin to absorb the BPA,Â Â andÂ "so many people don't realize how much they'reÂ actuallyÂ handling receipts. I've seen women use it to blot their lipstick or put it in their mouths while they go through their wallets," Vandenberg says. For those times you absolutely need a receipt, store it in an envelope away from the rest of the things in your purse, and be sure to wash your hands after touching it. This may help reduce the amount that ends up in your system.
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Buy a BPA-free water bottle
The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012 because of the known risks to children, and BPA-free water bottles became all the rage. But if you still haven't picked one up, here are someÂ options:
Lifefactory Glass Bottle with Silicone SleeveÂ ($15, amazon.com)
Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle With Stainless Loop CapÂ ($17, amazon.com)