11/13/2010 06:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Beware of BPA, the Stealth Fat Chemical in Cans

This Thanksgiving, I'd rather have a can of worms than canned food with Bisphenol-A! At least worms make fertile soil. BPA, it appears, just makes us fat and infertile. It's harvest season, so let's eat the fresh whole seasonal foods that are in abundance right now. Buy a pumpkin in its skin rather than a can; make a tarty, citrusy sauce with fresh cranberries and real orange rind.

Not for nothing is November, which kicks off our holiday feasting, National Diabetes Month. It's easy to gain weight over the holidays, and being overweight is one of the top two risks -- in addition to lack of exercise -- for developing type 2 diabetes. , which is growing at an epidemic rate . Fattening diets of sodas and processed foods, high in added sugars and fats and low in fiber, have long been linked to diabetes, but another possible risk factor has recently been identified. Guess who? You got it, the villain is BPA, which leaches from the linings of food cans and from polycarbonate (#7) bottles, and has been found in the bodies of 95% of Americans tested.

In two recent studies, one on human adults in 2008 and one on pregnant mice and their offspring this year, , higher exposures to BPA have been associated with diabetes. In the human study, those with most BPA in their urine were also more likely to have cardiovascular disease -- which goes hand in hand with diabetes.

Now a new study, published this month, has found BPA in 60% of the canned and plastic-packaged foods tested. The authors, including Dr.s Arnold Schechter of the University of Texas School of Public Health and Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, concluded that "food packaging systematically causes the occurrence of BPA in foods." For an excellent summary in Science News, click here.

What You Can Do

The good news: Simple diet and lifestyle shifts can keep you and your family diabetes-free. Eat whole foods, such as brown rather than white rice , and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. This Thanksgiving, you can choose whole, rather than canned cranberries, and make pumpkin pie from scratch, not from a can. In this way, you'll also skip a possible dose of BPA. Remember to give diabetes another kick by taking a half-hour walk after dinner!

No time to convert pumpkin innards into pie? You can find pureed pumpkin in glass jars or in cans from companies who assure they don't use BPA. For BPA-free ideas and a pumpkin pie recipe, click here. .

For drink bottles without BPA or other unhealthy plastic chemicals, see my list here .

What Not to Do

Don't fret over BPA! You don't have to radically rearrange your lifestyle and avoid canned or processed foods altogether. Levels found in the packaged foods tested in the University of Texas study, above, did not exceed the EPA's current recommended daily limit, researchers said. However, because we are exposed to BPA through many other sources, including polycarbonate (#7) plastic food and drink containers and the coatings on store receipts, it's worthwhile to be mindful of it and choose less risky alternatives when possible.