Why dining out and fast food could cause higher cancer risks than home cooking

Plenty of Americans ditch cooking at home in favor of dining out, but beware of eating too much restaurant and fast food. It could increase your risk for developing some diseases, including cancer, according to new research.

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Researchers from George Washington University and the University of California Berkeley at San Francisco recently conducted a study, published in Environmental International, to determine the benefits and hazards of eating out.

To do so, they pulled data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, assessing the health of more than 10,000 people from 2005 to 2014. They then examined the links between what people ate and the levels of phthalate break-down products found in the participants' urine samples. Phthalates, used to make a range of plastics, nail polishes and moisturizers, have been linked to breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and fertility issues. They can seep into foods from packaging containing phthalathes.

After analyzing the results, they found that the levels of chemicals were 35 percent higher in those who regularly ate at restaurants, cafeterias and fast food places. They also discovered that individuals who ate cheeseburgers and other fast food sandwiches had phthalates levels 30 percent higher than those who did not eat them.

"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 author Ami Zota said in a statement. "Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population."

The chemicals were particularly higher among adolescents. Teens who ate the most non-homemade foods had phthalates levels 55 percent higher than those who mostly ate at home.

"Pregnant women, children and teens are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, so it's important to find ways to limit their exposures," coauthor Julia Varshavsky added.

The scientists now hope to continue their investigations to explore the most effective interventions to rid phthalates from the food supply.

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