Cliché or not, eating food from dusty metal cans and assorted plastic containers is as endemic to college life as hangovers and cram sessions.
The typical convenience-based, borderline-desperate college diet can be summed up by images of microwave-nuked Chef Boyardee and little cans of Vienna sausage.
Many of these metal-can or plastic-packaged foods, however, come with a nasty downside: Bisphenol A, or BPA.
You’ve likely seen water bottles or baby bottles boasting they are “BPA-free,” and for good reason: Countless studies have found BPA to be a factor for hormonal issues, neurological problems, reproductive system problems, breast cancer and other conditions.
Now, researchers at the Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute, which deals with breast cancer concerns, have found eating canned or plastic-packaged foods instead of fresh foods can significantly increase BPA levels in individuals.
This increased exposure is because of the leaching of BPA from the resin lining the inside of these containers, and it’s no small increase: The study found an average growth in BPA levels of 60 percent in those who consumed canned or plastic-packaged foods regularly.
Consumer Reports took a look last year at what sort of BPA levels popular canned foods contained.
High levels were found in Progresso’s vegetable soup, as well as Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle.
Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans took the trophy, however, with an average of 123.5 parts per billion of BPA in one serving.
For a 165-pound individual, this one serving of canned green beans equates to BPA exposure of 85 times the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended amount per day.
And for whatever reason, the United States government hasn’t stepped in to do anything about it. Unlike governments in China, Europe, Canada and the United Arab Emirates have all banned BPA from children’s food products.
It’s hard to believe the FDA’s proposal to deem BPA a “chemical of concern” has not been approved, considering the extensive research pointing to one thing: BPA is a harmful chemical.
It’s not like there aren’t alternatives to BPA-leeching-prone resin coatings.
Between 1998 and 2003, Japan’s canning industry changed its resin to BPA-free polyethylene terephtalate linings as well as another epoxy lining, which in this case inhibited leaching of BPA into foods (even though it wasn’t fully BPA-free).
What happened after Japan’s change?
Researchers following Japanese college students noticed quite a drastic difference: They recorded decreases in BPA exposure of more than 50-percent in these students after the canning industry’s switch.
In this country, however, change in how BPA is used in packaging and canning doesn’t appear on the horizon, even with more studies showing unacceptable mainstream levels of BPA exposure.
Obviously, this poses a dilemma for college students strapped for time and money.
And in this scenario, the issue of canned foods becomes difficult for everyone, not just college students on a budget.
A homemade marinara sauce, for instance, is often a result of canned tomatoes.
Pasta dishes sometimes call for canned fish.
Even fresh soups can require canned ingredients like chicken broth.
There are ways to reduce the intake of canned foods which will help you limit BPA exposure and maybe eat better, too.
Beans are tasty, but there’s no reason to be heating up that salt-flooded canned pork and beans.
Find a block of time when you’ll be home for a few hours and cook some yourself. The night before, soak beans in a bowl with cold water.
The next day, just chop up some onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrot, and sauteé with plenty of bacon.
Throw in the beans and pour in enough cold water to cover them, then bring the beans to a simmer and let them cook for however long it takes to get them nice and tender.
Now you have a boatload of beans that can be refrigerated or frozen, and can be easily consumed for the next week or even longer.
A similar process: Add pieces of dark-meat chicken, like thighs and drumsticks, to a pot and toss in handfuls of diced onion, carrot and celery, along with some garlic or a bay leaf.
Season with salt and pepper, cover with water, bring the pot to a boil and then turn down the heat to a bare simmer.
Keep an eye on it while you’re studying and let it cook for about an hour.
When the meat is tender, you’re good to go.
That big batch of soup with juicy chicken and a delicate broth, will be ready to be eaten or refrigerated for later.
Best of all? No BPA.
Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring in print journalism. His column, “Food As Life,” runs Thursdays.