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Are Chemicals Making You Fat?


In a previous post I talked about the notion of ‘calories in, calories out’ being outdated. The truth is, there are numerous factors that impact weight and body composition beyond what and how much you eat, including your exposure to chemicals. 

One scientist at UC Irvine studied obese mice that plumped up without overeating. The rodents ate a normal diet but were exposed to a common chemical, tributyltin before birth. Tributyltin, which is found in vinyl products and treated wood, is one of several ‘obesogens’ being tested. Researchers believe that exposure to these substances can trigger a greater production of fat cells and an increased appetite. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know how much tributyltin you may have been exposed to and there are no large-scale human studies; but this isn’t the first chemical linked to obesity.

In 2009, the US non-profit group Consumers Union, tested packaged foods including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, and found that almost all contained measurable levels of Bisphenol A or BPA, a building block of plastics that’s been linked to thyroid problems and obesity. In animal research, exposure to BPA accelerates the formation of fat cells and one recent study detected BPA in over 90 percent of the urine samples collected from US residents.  

In addition to my college degrees in nutrition science I also have a master’s in public health, so I’m particularly interested in the link between the environment and health. The bad news here is there’s still a lot we don’t know. But the good news is that there are several ways you can take charge now in order to reduce your exposure to chemicals that may impact your weight. Here are my top six:

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and bring your own reusable mesh produce bags to the store rather than wrapping them in plastic bags. 

Look for packaged foods that are BPA free, such as Eden Organic

Cut back on packaging wherever you can. Buy in bulk, and store foods like oats, quinoa, beans and nuts in glass contains.

At work or on the go, use a stainless steel water bottle that’s not lined with plastic.

When heating foods in the microwave or storing in the refrigerator use glass containers. 

Seek out natural products in your kitchen and throughout your home.

What’s your take on this topic? Are you concerned about the link between chemicals and your health? Are you striving to go more au naturale? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.


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