Would you like mustard, ketchup, or a dose of the industrial flame-retardant hexabromocyclodecane (HBCD) with your bratwurst? According to a new study at the University of Texas, your sausage may be topped with more than you know.
Researchers examined 36 foods from Dallas grocery stores and discovered detectable levels of HBCD in 15 foods including fresh salmon from the seafood display, pre-packaged sausages, peanut butter, and canned chili. HBCD is fat-soluble, so it’s transported through fat–a common-ground with all of the affected foods. But that doesn’t mean something with a lot of fat will always have HBCD–it just depends on how much HBCD the food was exposed to. (Discover What’s Really In Your Food.)
It’s not clear just how harmful HBCD might be in humans, but animal studies have shown that it causes disruption in the reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems, and also has neurotoxic effects. It can take several months for your body to clear fat-soluble organic chemicals, and you likely consume more and more every day. “As these chemicals stay in your body, they continue to affect your health until they’re cleared,” says study author Arnold Schecter, M.D., a professor of epidemiology, genetics, and environmental sciences at the University of Texas.
Another problem: It’s hard to blame the supermarkets. Fresh tillapia in one store had nearly 15 times the amount of HBCD as tillapia from another store, according to the study. (Should you go organic? Read The Truth About Organic Food.) “The amount of HBCD in different foods could depend on how they were packaged, particles of HBCD in the air, or even what the animals ate, since HBCD will work its way up a food chain,” says Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and co-author of the study.
The best way to reduce your exposure: Take in more fruits and vegetables. They absorb hardly any HBCD because they don’t have fat, Schecter says. If you love your meat, choose mainly lean cuts, trim off the fat, and grill or broil your meat so the fat drips off. (Discover hundreds of healthy grilling recipes this summer with Grill This, Not That!) That way you’ll further cut down on HBCD and other fat-soluble toxins, while still being able to indulge in the occasional chili dog.