Well+Good

A new reason to up your meal-prep game: Harmful chemicals may be more likely in takeout

Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold

The world of takeout has made a lot of healthy strides since the old days of greasy-pizza-or-nothing offerings—thanks to the advent of Seamless, Uber Eats, and other restaurant-delivery services that have vastly expanded options to include wholesome, green, and vegan menus, dining out (or, technically, in—from your couch). But a new study claims that eating meals prepared in restaurant kitchens—be it fast food or otherwise—could add harmful phthalates to your body.

Really quick refresher: Phthalates are a type of chemical commonly found in food packaging and processing products (things like to-go boxes, food-handling gloves, and more), and the National Academies of Sciences has reported they can wreak havoc on humans’ reproductive hormones. (They have been linked to such health issues as cancer, diabetes, and infertility.) So, obviously, it makes most sense to avoid ’em.

The study, published in Environment International, used data from 10,253 participants collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2014 and found that participants who said they had dined out in the past 24 hours had 35 percent higher levels of phthalates (urine samples from each participant were tested) than those who didn’t, Science Daily reported. That number is actually higher for pregnant women, children, and teens, lead author Julia Varshavsky, PhD, told Science Daily, and alarmingly, adolescents who were “high consumers” of restaurant food had 55 percent higher phthalate levels than those who made their own meals did.

“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 study author Ami Zota, doctor of science

Although other studies have touched on the relationship between fast food and phthalates, Science Daily reported that this is the first to examine the relationship between phthalates and all restaurants, not just fast food.

“This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates,” senior author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, told Science Daily.

So aside from the practice saving you a massive amount of money, consider this yet another reason to seriously focus on meal prep and home cooking.

Grocery shopping has never been more convenient now that Costco and Walmart are bringing groceries to your door, so why not cook at home?