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Are Canned Tomatoes Dangerous? The Latest BPA Scare

by | Dec 16, 2009
Photo by TheBittenWord.com

Photo by TheBittenWord.com

Chances are that if you do much cooking, especially during the winter, you rely on canned tomatoes as the base for many dishes. Canned tomatoes are one of the staples of my kitchen and I’ve recommended them many times as a good alternative to fresh winter tomatoes (yuck).

But recent reports indicate that the lining of most cans (including tomatoes, beans and soda) contain a resin that leaches a toxic chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA), into food.

BPA has been shown to be a neuroendocrine disruptor and causes several biological problems, especially during development. Outrage over BPA back in April 2008 led to massive changes in consumer demands about the safety of food containers, especially baby bottles and the then-popular Nalgene bottles.

Since publication of the The 7 Foods Experts Won’t Eat article in Shine, I’ve been bombarded with questions asking if it is still okay to eat canned tomatoes.

Here are my thoughts on canned tomatoes & BPA:

1. Canned tomatoes aren’t great, but soda is worse. In the article, Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, says that tomatoes are a particular problem in cans lined with resin because they are acidic, which increases the rate at which BPA enters food. He goes on to argue that this amount exceeds recommended doses and can “impact people.”

Since Dr. vom Saal studies BPA and I do not, I concede his point. But I think it is also important to consider the context of this argument. It is true that tomatoes are acidic, but tomatoes also have many health benefits and can be a valuable part of your diet.

I don’t drink soda (which is substantially more acidic than tomatoes) or eat canned beans, so tomatoes are the only canned food I eat. I also don’t eat canned tomatoes every day. I therefore question if the tiny, sporadic amount of BPA that I am exposed to through canned tomatoes has a real effect on my disease risk, given my healthstyle.

My guess is the risk is very small. If you do drink a lot of soda, however, you may have more to worry about.

2. Glass jars are a fantastic alternative. Home canning was all the rage this summer, and I’m sure those of you who produced gallons of home stewed tomatoes are feeling pretty awesome right now with your BPA-free stockpiles.

There is no way on earth I would have time for a massive canning project of my own, but fortunately there are some wonderful independent companies willing to do it for me and sell them to me as I need.

I have yet to try tomatoes from a glass jar, but my guess is they lack the metallic aftertaste of those in cans. As an experiment, I’ll make my next preserved tomato purchase from one of my favorite companies, Happy Girl Kitchen, to see if I can tell the difference. They are more expensive than the cans I normally get, but it might be worth it for the better flavor. You can also find their products at Foodzie.

Keep up with my foodie experiments on Twitter @summertomato.

3. I’m not a kid, but if you are you should be more careful. One of the biggest problems with BPA is its effect on children. Kids are small, so the amount of BPA they are exposed to pound-for-pound is relatively higher than it is for the rest of us. Children also metabolize (eliminate) BPA more slowly, so the toxins stay in their bodies longer. Lastly, during development certain organs are more susceptible to the effects of BPA, which may result in serious problems later in life.

In other words, BPA is substantially more dangerous for children than it is for adults.

So while BPA may be a mild concern for grownups with a basically healthy lifestyle, it may be worth keeping it out of your diet for the sake of the younger members of your family.

Conclusion

BPA in canned tomatoes is a legitimate concern. However unless you are a regular consumer or are under the age of 6, the long-term impact of BPA on your life is probably mild.

If you would rather be safe than sorry, glass jars are a fantastic BPA-free alternative that will probably improve the taste of your winter tomato dishes.

As for the other items on the list, I mostly agree with their conclusions. However the selection of these particular 7 things (as opposed to dozens of other problematic foods) seems rather random and arbitrary. In my opinion you will get much more out of shopping at the farmers market than you will from fretting over blacklisted foods.

What do you think about canned tomatoes and BPA? Did I answer your questions?

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