Surprising levels of plastic in the foods we eat

As you all know, this blog’s focus is primarily exercise, nutrition and heart health. However, while the topic of plastic in our food might seem a little outside those areas; when it comes to nutrition we should always consider the importance of all issues that have an impact on the foods we eat and the dangers of unhealthy foods.

“The average person consumes a credit card’s worth of plastic each week in the form of microplastic.”

Francisca Ribeiro, University of Queensland, Australia

What is microplastic?

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), microplastics are tiny particles of plastic, from any source or type of plastic, that is less than 5mm in length and they can be found on land and in our oceans. These plastics are found in honey, beer, bottled water, shellfish, oysters, crab, sardines, plankton, whales, commercial seafood and even drinking water. Unfortunately, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics and even worse, microplastics in the ocean bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine life. That same marine life can go from the ocean to your plate then we ingest the plastic with our seafood.

Currently scientists aren’t sure if consumption of microplastic is harmful to humans; but if so, what dangers would they pose in the long-term? As you can see from the graphic below a plastic water bottle can take 450 years to fully decompose in the ocean. That begs the question, once ingested, how long will microplastics remain in a human body? What chemicals have bonded with the plastic that could be released and what harm would they cause?

Given we know there are significant amounts of microplastics in our foods; and there could be unknown health issues resulting from all that plastic, it’s important that we do what we can to minimize the ingestion of plastics and help reduce the amount of plastic that is released into the environment.

Things you can do to avoid microplastics

  1. Reduce (or if possible, eliminate) use of bottled water. Drinking water is one of the main sources of microplastics in our bodies and found in almost every brand of bottled water. On average bottled water contains 22 times more microplastic particles than tap water.
  2. Reduce your shellfish consumption as shellfish absorb microplastics from polluted ocean water. Fish and other marine wildlife can also mistake bits of plastic for food. These bits of microplastics are transferred along the food chain and may eventually be ingested.
  3. Avoid plastics in general – all plastic products will eventually shed plastic particles over time. For example styrofoam cups and containers (polystyrene) break down easily and can be ingested. Also avoid plastic straws and even some tab bags have plastic particles.

Thing you can do to protect the environment

  1. Reduce your use of single-use plastics
  2. Recycle often and properly
  3. Participate in a beach or river clean up
  4. Spread the word to friends and family
  5. Support organizations addressing plastic pollution

Organizations addressing plastic pollution

Please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise or nutrition program and discuss an individualized plan that’s best for you.

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