Your weekend plans may increase your exposure to phthalates.
Photo: ViChizh / Shutterstock

Making a restaurant reservation this weekend? One study could make you reconsider.

Researchers at George Washington University, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of California San Francisco found that people who dined out more often had elevated levels of harmful, toxic chemicals linked to diseases-including cancer-called phthalates. Generally used to make as solvents to make plastics soft, phthalates are commonly found in nail polish, shampoos, or moisturizer. (Related: You're Eating More Plastic Than You Think)

Between 2005 and 2014, 10,253 individuals participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Those who reported eating out more (in a cafeteria, at a fast-food joint, or in a restaurant) had phthalate levels almost 35 percent higher than those who cooked most of their eats at home, according to the data. Researchers suggest that these chemicals can leach from plastic containers or wrapping into food, which is then consumed.

"This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications, and other health issues," senior author Ami Zota, Sc.D., M.S., an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, said in a release. "Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population."

So does this mean it's time to cancel those reservations? Not necessarily. Researchers found that certain foods, especially cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, were most associated with increased levels of phthalates, but only if they were purchased at a fast-food spot. This finding goes hand-in-hand with a previous study that also suggested that fast food may expose consumers to higher levels of phthalates-specifically fries, burgers, and other fast foods. So, perhaps just pump the breaks on hitting up the drive-through. And when in doubt, go home-cooked. It's an easy way to nix unhealthy fats and beat undesirable sodium overload.