People who eat more meals at home have lower levels of harmful chemicals in their bodies

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New US research has found that individuals who cook and eat more meals at home have lower levels of harmful PFAS chemicals, which are commonly found in take-out and fast food packaging.

Carried out by researchers at Silent Spring Institute, the new study looked at data gathered from 10,106 participants taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a program carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track health and nutritional trends in the United States.

Participants were asked to answer questions about their diet and detail what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, and 12 months. 

The participants also provided blood samples that were analyzed for a number of different PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals, which are chemicals commonly used in a variety of everyday objects including nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products such as carpets, cookware, outdoor apparel and food packaging. 

The findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, showed that the participants who ate more meals at home had significantly lower levels of PFAS in their bodies. Of these meals eaten at home, 90 percent had been made with food bought at a grocery store.

The participants who ate more fast food, or who ate out more frequently at restaurants, were more likely to have higher levels of PFAS in their bodies, which the researchers say suggests that fast food and food from restaurants is more likely to be contaminated with PFAS, possible due to contact with food packaging containing the chemicals. 

The researchers also found that people who ate more microwave popcorn also had significantly higher levels of PFAS, a finding in line with other studies, probably as a result of the chemicals leaching out of the popcorn bags. 

"This is the first study to observe a link between different sources of food and PFAS exposures in the US population," said co-author Laurel Schaider, Ph.D. "Our results suggest migration of PFAS chemicals from food packaging into food can be an important source of exposure to these chemicals." 

PFAS have previously been linked with numerous health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight and reduced fertility. 

"The general conclusion here is the less contact your food has with food packaging, the lower your exposures to PFAS and other harmful chemicals," says Rodgers. "These latest findings will hopefully help consumers avoid these exposures and spur manufacturers to develop safer food packaging materials."