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Another Reason to Eat at Home

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eating meal

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Dining out increases overall exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Budget-conscious people already know that eating out is expensive. The average U.S. household spends about $3,008 a year on dining out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which counts in that category full-service restaurants, fast-food, delivery, cafeterias… even food trucks. But if you need more incentive to pack lunch, or cook tonight instead of picking up prepared foods on your way home, consider the results from a new study.

Researchers at George Washington University found that eating out may boost the total levels of phthalates in your body. Phthalates are a potentially health-harming group of chemicals. Why are they in your food? Because they are used in food packaging, take-home boxes, food processing equipment—even the gloves that handlers wear when they are touching your food. Exposure to phthalates is a concern, as some animal studies link these chemicals to adverse health effects such as reduced fertility and obesity.

The George Washington Study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In it, 10,253 participants were asked what they had eaten, and where, in the past 24 hours. The researchers compared the link between what the people had eaten, and the phthalate break-down products that were in the subjects’ urine samples. People who had reported eating out had phthalate levels nearly 35 percent higher, the study found. The association was particular strong among teenagers, who were the most enthusiastic consumers of fast food and had 55 percent higher levels of phthalates than those who had dined only at their homes. Another particularly strong association was found with wrapped sandwiches such as cheeseburgers, which were associated with a 30 percent higher level in all age groups.

“Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population,” wrote the study’s senior author, Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken School of Public Health at George Washington University. “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.”

So, preparing food at home is a win-win. You avoid harmful phthalates; keep a heathier diet by reducing sugar, unhealthy fats and salt, and, have a leaner budget, too.


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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