Frequent meals at restaurants, fast-food outlets, and cafeterias do not just drain the pocket. Researchers of a new study also revealed that eating out may also increase levels of a harmful group of chemicals in the body called phthalates.

Phthalates Health Risks

Phthalates are binding agents used in food packaging and other products, which include flooring, shampoos, soaps, and adhesives. These chemicals are known to disrupt hormones in the body.

Exposure to phthalates has been linked to a range of health problems, which include pregnancy complications, fertility problems, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer. Pregnant women, children, and teens are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of these chemicals.

For the new study, Ami Zota, from George Washington University, and colleagues asked 10,253 individuals about the food they ate and where these foods came from in the previous day. Of the participants, 61 percent said they dined out the previous day.

After analyzing the link between the food consumed by the participants and the levels of phthalate break-down products in the participants' urine samples, the researchers found that there was a significant link between dining out and phthalate exposure.

The association, however, was more significant among teenagers. Teenagers happen to consume a lot of fast food and other food products that are sold outside the home.

Food Contaminated With Phthalates

The researchers also found that certain foods such as cheeseburgers and other sandwiches tend to have increased levels of phthalates when they are bought from a fast-food outlet, cafeteria, or restaurants.

Earlier studies have also revealed food products that contain phthalates. In a 2017 study, researchers tested 30 cheese products that include string cheese and processed cheese slices and found that only one of the samples was not contaminated with phthalates. Researchers of this study also found that the highest level of phthalates were in samples of boxed macaroni and cheese.

Home-Cooked Meals May Limit Exposure To Phthalates

Zota and colleagues said that the findings raise concerns since two-thirds of the people in the United States consume some food outside the home every day. Researchers said that one way to limit exposure to these chemicals is to prepare meals at home.

"Preparing food at home may represent a win-win for consumers," Zota said, adding that consuming home-cooked meals can reduce intake of unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Environment International on March 28.

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