Chemicals in Food Packaging and Nonstick Pans Linked to Drastic Weight Gain in Women

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Everyone knows that consuming a diet of bread, processed and fast foods isn’t doing you any favors in the health and weight management department. A surprising new study shows, however, that it’s not just the food you eat that’s contributing to weight gain, but that chemicals found in the packaging and preparation of those foods could also be culprits.

A study published by Harvard University in PLOS Medicine concluded that chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are found in non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and more, suppressed metabolism in study participants, leading to rapid and sometimes drastic weight gain. The research team studied 621 overweight individuals after they completed a six-month weight loss program. 18 months later, half of the individuals had gained back more than half of the weight they had lost, and those who had the highest levels of PFAS in their bodies gained back the most weight. The study also revealed higher levels of PFAS were correlated with lower resting metabolic rates, which prevents the body from burning as many calories during daily activities. The link, however, was seen almost exclusively in women.

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“The sex-specific difference did surprise us a little bit,” says study lead Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said to Time. “But we also know that PFAS can interfere with estrogen metabolism and functioning, so this may be why we see this observation mostly in women.”

Previous studies have linked PFAS to high cholesterol, immune system disruption and cancer, yet the chemicals remain ubiquitous in consumer products. Sun says while it’s “basically impossible” for Americans to avoid the chemicals, they can take steps to reduce their exposure. PCAS are frequently used in order to repel oil and water, so one actionable tip is to avoid eating food that’s come into contact with these types of packaging, bags or cookware.

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