As food consumers everywhere await details from Subway on what ingredients changes they’ll make after their announcement that they’ll remove the harmful chemical azodicarbonamide from their breads, it’s worth noting that several major popular foods for sale still contain the chemical, including several packaged breads.
Azodicarbonamide is used in the food industry as a dough conditioner and bleaching agent, one that the company said it will remove in response to a massive grassroots campaign and petition drive launched by food blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe. The chemical is also used in yoga mats, synthetic leather and shoe rubber and is banned in several countries across the globe including most of Europe. And if you get caught using it as an ingredient in Singapore, you could face up to 15 years in prison and a $450,000 fine. You read that correctly.
Unfortunately here in the United States, azodicarbonamide is fairly common among both packaged breads (as you’ll see in our random testing exercise below, which includes pictures) and fast food restaurants.
Found in many Fast Food chains...
Among the fast food companies whose ingredients’ lists (bread-based items in this case) contain the chemical are:
•McDonald’s (which continues to toe the FDA line that it’s “safe” and doesn’t seem likely to remove it)
•Pizza Hut (garlic bread)
•Steak N’ Shake
•Starbucks (they just announced they’d be removing it due to the movement against it)
•And many more…
The chemical has been linked to to asthma, respiratory problems, skin sensitivities and other health problems by the World Health Organization. And according to Food Babe’s website, it forms trace amounts of semicarbazide, which is a likely carcinogen, when it undergoes the heat of processing. But that hasn’t stopped the above companies from continuing to use it in many of their products.
For now, Subway is still using it, and Hari has urged her hundreds of thousands of followers to boycott Subway until they make good on their promise to remove the “yoga” mat” chemical (Hari and other natural health advocates also highly recommend people buy their food elsewhere anyway considering the litany of GMOs and preservatives the “healthy” fast food chain uses).
Random Sampling: Majority of Packaged Breads Contain Controversial “Yoga Mat” Chemical...
Avoiding fast food restaurants is something that comes natural these days for many, but avoiding bread entirely is a whole different matter. It’s a staple diet item for millions of people and it’s become harder to find truly healthy versions in recent years at the grocery store (although the front labels will tell you otherwise).
Most of us in the true food movement already know that virtually all packaged breads contain GMOs, especially of the soy variety, but the controversial Subway “yoga mat” chemical azodicarbonamide is also strongly present based on the results of a random sampling of breads I conducted on Feb. 7, 2014 at a Kroger store in Dearborn, Michigan just outside of Detroit.
Rules of the sampling: To conduct this sampling, 15 breads and bread products such as bagels were selected at random and then ingredients labels were checked for azodicarbonamide.
In total, 9 out of 15 breads sampled were found to contain the highly controversial chemical. The packages are shown in the pictures below and whether or not they contain azodicarbonamide is listed in parentheses:
1. Sun Maid Raisin Bread (YES)- Raisin bread is often thought of by the mainstream as being a “healthier option,” but this major brand’s bread contains azodicarbonamide along with wheat gluten, likely GMO vegetable oil, preservatives, likely GMO soy and much more. Buyer beware.
2. Thomas’ English Muffins (NO)- Contains likely GMO soy and wheat gluten, but I suppose it’s a good thing they don’t have azodicarbonamide. A scan of their website showed that their corn toasting bread and original toasting bread both contained it, however.
3. Pepperidge Farm Raisin Cinnamon Bread (NO)- No azodicarbonamide here, but it does have high fructose corn syrup, tucked away neatly in the vast sea of ingredients that also contains soybean oil that’s likely to be GMO. Steer clear…
4. Sara Lee Deluxe Bagels (YES)- Azodicarbonamide is present in this one, along with soy products that are likely GMO. “Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee”? If we’re talking about using harmful chemicals, well, we’d unfortunately be lying.
5. Aunt Millie’s (NO)- An Indiana-based company, their bagels actually don’t contain the controversial “yoga mat” chemical, but these bagels do have what is likely to be GMO beet sugar, and there’s no telling where their wheat is sourced from (modern wheat is often grown using unnatural processes and bears little resemblance to the truly natural stuff our grandparents were raised on). Many people are realizing that modern wheat is a “chronic poison” that can lead to inflammation, weight gain and more, as detailed in the book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight
6. Kroger Whole White Wheat Hamburger Buns (YES)- Lots of odd preservatives in these plus GMOs and of course the dreaded Azodicarbonamide. I suppose that’s to be expected nowadays for something so cheap, but are these chemicals really necessary, Kroger?
7. Brownberry 100% Whole Grains Whole Wheat Bread (NO)- No azodicarbonamide made its way into this seemingly healthier bread, but once again likely GMO soy and also the harmful wheat gluten did. Another dough conditioner, DATEM, is also listed on the ingredients label, and it’s definitely one to avoid: A 2002 study on rats showed “heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth” according to a post on the popular Fooducate app’s blog.
8. Beefsteak Soft Rye (NO)- This one also could potentially contain DATEM, and has the likely GMO soybean oil, questionable other ingredients such as natural flavors and caramel color, and more included on the back of its package. No azodicarbonamide here, but still not exactly a healthy choice.
9. Healthy Life 100% Whole Grain (YES)- Speaking of “healthy choices,” this company claims to produce a healthy product yet below we see the truth in plain English: azodicarbonamide (tricky word but you get the drift)! Sadly I don’t even need to note that there likely GMOs here at this point, either. This is some 1984-type stuff folks, and Exhibit A as to why we need to read the back of the package more so than the front.
10. Bunny Extra-Soft (YES)- If it has a TV commercial, you probably shouldn’t eat it. And if it has a bunny on the front of the package, it probably has azodicarbonamide (or in the case of Trix cereal, GMOs). Something bad, anyway.
11. Mother’s Soft Enriched White Bread (YES)- Contains good old fashioned azodicarbonamide, just like mom used to make! Who are these companies trying to fool with their wholesome images, anyway?
12. Hillbilly Old Fashion Bread (YES)- “Made with Granny’s Old Fashion Bread Mix,” one that also contains…azodicarbonamide. Say it ain’t so, Granny! Not you too!
13. Koepplinger’s (NO)- Our next contestant, Koepplinger’s Healthy Whole Grains, doesn’t have azodicarbonamide in it. Wonderful, right? Think again, because it also contains likely GMOs in “sugar” and soy while advertising itself as “All Natural.” All natural in what universe, Koepplinger’s? Either become third-party verified or drop the deceptive labeling, please. We don’t ask for much from our bread companies (and we’re getting even less).
14. Sunbeam (YES)- Again, ignore the front of the package. The girl who looks like she’s from a bygone golden era is eating ingredients that probably weren’t around back then (lucky for those people).
15. Private Selection Sugar Free 100% Whole Wheat (YES)- Sugar-free is a good thing, but the word sugar-free often is not. While there’s no artificial sweetener in here, you will find azodicarbonamide and potential GMOs. Just another in a long line of false healthy breads to be found at your local grocer.
My Final Thoughts: As you can see, the problem of azodicarbonamide extends far beyond Subway and into all aspects of our food system, alongside GMOs and other wholly unnatural ingredients that are banned in dozens of other much more health and consumer-conscious countries.
Subsequent web research revealed that other top-selling brands including Wonderbread and Oroweat (hamburger buns) also use azodicarbonamide in their products.
So, what’s the solution? The solution is simple, read the back of the package and not the front! Also, keep spreading awareness: every social media share, conversation and conscious eating app download helps.
As we saw with Food Babe’s excellent work spreading the truth and presenting it in a way that rallied the masses, we can all make a huge difference when we come together. Never before have consumers had the tools to take on even the most powerful corporations like we do now.
People have been doing it for Europe in years through word-of-mouth, and now it’s our turn to catch up and to force these companies to go back to the type of honest and truly natural, non-GMO ingredients that we all deserve.
If you know someone who continues to eat these harmful bread products, please share this article with them and do your best to set the right kind of example from them to see as well.
And if you bought these breads not realizing that they had azodicarbonamide, you should strongly consider taking them back to the store for a refund! The Subway yoga mat chemical story is so highly publicized right now that we can send a real message by returning these products and letting managers know we don’t want them anymore.