It might seem like overkill to only use stainless steel or glass dishes, but according to experts, there's science to support Kourtney's claims.
The Kardashian family is famous for a lot of things, but one of them is their sort of out-there, occasionally dubious health and fitness habits. Waist trainers, detox tea, and working out in a sauna suit are just some of their semi-eccentric practices. But when it comes to both physical and mental wellness, Kourtney Kardashian seems to have a pretty good handle on her priorities. She drinks probiotics, which are proven to have major health benefits, and has vowed never to say the word "fat" in front of her daughter Penelope in order to promote healthy body image. We can definitely get behind that. That's why when she posted a story on her website titled Why I Use Stainless Steel Everything for the Kids, we were intrigued. These days, most people are aware that using plastic food containers regularly carries some health risks. But is it really necessary to replace all of your dishes with stainless steel or glass ones? Sounds like overkill, right?
In the post, Kardashian explains that she serves her kids food on stainless steel dishware "because it's durable, more hygienic, and doesn't contain chemicals. We even use reusable stainless steel straws instead of wasting disposable plastic ones." The chemicals she's concerned about? Mainly, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. BPA is found in many plastic products like water bottles, food storage containers, and even plastic plates and bowls. Phthalates are also found in plastics and are used to make them more flexible and resistant to breaking. The effects of phthalates on the human body are currently unknown. But according to the CDC, BPA has been researched widely with results that suggest it's quite harmful to humans (more on that later).
"We use both glass and stainless steel containers instead of Tupperware for leftovers and to store food in my pantry," continues Kourtney. "For the kids' lunches, we use stainless steel bento boxes. We have a whole cupboard full of eco-friendly dinner plates, cereal bowls, flatware, and cups all made of stainless steel."
So is Kourt's concerted effort to avoid all BPA and other chemicals in plastic products misplaced? Probably not. First, we should explain the effect that BPA has on your body. "BPA is clearly an endocrine disrupter, which basically means it messes with your hormones," explains Rachel Carlton Abrams, M.D., author of the upcoming book Bodywise: Discovering Your Body's Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing. "BPA acts like estrogen, which may increase the risk of hormonal cancers like breast, uterine, thyroid, and possibly even prostate cancer."
One thing, though: "The research is not totally conclusive but is suggestive," according to Roshini Raj, M.D., associate professor at NYU School of Medicine. The FDA still considers the levels of BPA that come into contact with food to be safe based on their most recent assessment, which was in 2014. That being said, they also moved to ban the substance from baby products like bottles and formula containers back in 2012. If something is bad for children, isn't there a pretty good chance it's bad for adults, too?
As Abrams points out, "We've outlawed BPA for small children, which is good because they have smaller bodies and are much more susceptible to exposure to something that will disrupt their hormones. Still, it clearly affects adults as well, considering there's a growing number of women and men with hormone-related cancers in our country, and that plastics are a big source of estrogen-like chemicals in our environment," she explains. Even those who point out that the research is only suggestive say it's a good idea to skip BPA products: "I think it is generally a good idea to avoid BPA," said Raj. "I try to do it in my own home."
If you're wondering how BPA makes it from a plastic container into your food, the key is heat. "This wasn't really much of a concern for us before microwaves because nobody heated anything in plastic, so it's really a modern problem," notes Abrams. "Anytime you heat something in a plastic that contains BPA, it transfers from the plastic to whatever you're eating." That includes a lot of frozen foods that come in cardboard containers, she says. "You think 'oh well that's not plastic,' but it's got a plasticizer on the inside of the cardboard." Yikes.
Another thing you might not think is a big deal? Eating canned foods. Those cans are often lined with BPA plastic, too. There are some food manufacturers who have eliminated BPA from all of their products, but often they're not clearly marked in the grocery store or anywhere on the label. Luckily, organizations like the Environmental Working Group have lists of safe and not safe canned food brands that consumers can refer to. It's a little bit scary to think about how many food products are exposed to BPA just from their containers, but here's some good news: Anything packaged in glass is safe. So if you can't find any BPA-free canned food brands at your local grocery store, know that jarred foods are a better option.
Two other major culprits are bottled water and reusable plastic water bottles. You might argue that both water bottles and aluminum cans aren't heated up before people consume what's inside, but unfortunately, you don't know what happened to the bottle or can before it was in your possession. It could have been transported on a truck that sat out in the sun, or stored in an overheated warehouse before making its way to your grocery store. The same goes for leaving a reusable water bottle in a hot car. Even if your water bottle is empty when it gets heated up, some BPA will be absorbed into water that you put in the bottle later, says Abrams.
Fortunately, there are tons of BPA-free water bottles on the market. If possible, it's a good idea to choose a glass or stainless steel water bottle, since there's been quite a bit of controversy over BPA-free plastics being not so chemical-free. "The biggest problem with BPA is that it has estrogenic activity (EA) and lots of other chemicals used to make plastics also have EA," says George Bittner, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin. "It is, however, not that difficult or costly to make EA-free plastics, if consumers demand them."
So while it might seem like Kourtney Kardashian's stainless steel dish and container obsession is a little wacky, it's actually probably a good idea—especially if there are small children in your house. Even though more research needs to be done to confirm the exact effects of BPA, health experts generally recommend avoiding it when possible, which is a good enough reason for us to reconsider microwaving those leftovers in a plastic container.