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The Shocking Way Food Packaging Is Linked to Weight Gain, Study Finds

What's around your food may be just as important as what's in it.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

When you're trying to lose weight, it will always be important to look at the nutritional info on packaging. But new research in the journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests that a factor you might be missing is the packaging itself.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) noted that two chemicals in plastic products, bisphenols and phthalates, have been shown in previous research to disrupt metabolism in a way that promotes obesity. But, they add in this research, those are only a small fraction of compounds found in plastics. 

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To understand whether others might also play a role, they looked at 34 everyday products—including yogurt containers, kitchen sponges, and beverage bottles—with 629 unique chemical compounds, and found 11 that could also mess with metabolism. 

"The takeaway message is that any ordinary plastic product might have a mix of substances that could contribute to excess weight or lead to obesity," Martin Wagner, PhD, associate professor in NTNU's Department of Biology, tells Eat This, Not That!. "That's especially true since these chemicals don't always stay in the material, but may leach out into food and drink, where they might then be consumed."

The extent of how much plastic packaging might contribute to weight gain is unknown, Wagner adds, so that makes it more challenging to know whether you should veer away from this packaging altogether.

salad in plastic container

At the very least, Wagner said, it's helpful to limit plastic use when possible, especially with those two main culprits, bisphenols and phthalates. That's true for takeout food as well as groceries, according to another recent study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

In that research, samples of fast food from six chain restaurants revealed that many wrappers and containers contained phthalates, with the highest concentrations in meat-based items like burritos and hamburgers. 

Plus, it's not just food that might be an issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these chemicals are used in hundreds of products, including personal care items like shampoos and soap. 

Although you may not be able to avoid these chemicals completely, being aware of them could be helpful for cutting down at least a bit, says Wagner. That could give your metabolism the break it needs, and maybe even prevent some weight gain along the way.

For more about plastics, check out One Major Side Effect of Drinking From a Plastic Cup, According to Experts. 

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth
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