At Spud, we are trying to bridge the knowledge gap between us and our food. The Spud banned ingredient spotlight blog posts are written to educate you on the harmful effects of these ingredients, provide an explanation as to why we don’t carry them, and inform you on how these ingredients can be avoided.
What is it?
..And why is azodicarbonamide called the ‘yoga mat chemical’?
Good question. Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a dough conditioner that is used by bread processors to create products that are ultra-soft and chewy. It is also used as a bleaching agent in flour. However, the creepy superpower of this ingredient is its dual-action ability to be used in the realm of plastic production, where it creates springiness in yoga mats and shoe soles. I repeat–yoga mats and shoe soles!
ADA has been banned in Australia, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. Yet despite growing public health concerns, it is still accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.
Various high-profile food producers, such as Subway, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut have all pledged to remove the ingredient from their recipes, which is great. However, an assessment done by the Environmental Working Group reveals that the chemical is in close to 500 other brands that are still on the market.
What is it used for?
ADA is primarily found in plastic and rubber products, such as yoga mats and flip flops, and is used to make these products stretchier. Now consider that soft, squishy feeling of your own yoga mat and how it translates to create that soft, squishy texture of commercial bread. Eugh.
As far as bread products go, ADA will only be found lurking in refined white flours (as if you needed another reason to eat whole grains). However, the ubiquity of refined white flour products is something to consider when looking at cereals, starchy snacks like crackers or certain chips, processed baked goods, and pasta,
ADA is also often used as a liner underneath jar lids for various condiments and baby food–thank goodness you don’t have to worry about this at Spud!
Why do you want to avoid it?
Did you know that Canada is one of only five countries listed in the International Food Additive Database that permits the use of ADA in flour? Everybody else has pulled it.
The controversy around ADA stemmed after triggering asthma in workers at a manufacturing plant who were exposed to significant levels of ADA. However, it is the breakdown products of ADA that are additionally concerning. When flour containing ADA is baked, it creates a carcinogen known as urethane. An FDA study found that when the highest allowable amounts of ADA were used, urethane spiked to concerning levels. When lower amounts were used, urethane levels were much lower. And for us, the be-all, end-all is that we don’t have a system in Canada that forces producers to label their ADA levels.
And the crucial note here is that ADA is an unnecessary additive. Why debate how cancerous or not cancerous something is when we can simply avoid it altogether? Sure, there are several things to be wary of within your diet, but we just do not need to be consuming additives that increase cancer risk.
You know that study I mentioned earlier that found ADA in nearly 500 products sold in U.S. grocery stores? Well, that study was possible because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to label all additives used in bakery products.
This is not the case in Canada.
According to Health Canada spokesman Gary Holub, “If ADA has been added to flour and this flour is used as an ingredient in bread or any other bakery product … ADA would not have to be labeled on the final prepackaged food. A consumer would therefore need to inquire with individual bakeries to determine if their product uses flour that contains ADA.”
The Bottom Line
At Spud, we’re all for the yoga lifestyle, but we draw the line at yoga mat sandwiches. If I could attribute a list of relevant hashtags to azodicarbonamide, they would include #nonessential, #posinghealthrisks, and #plasticproduction. Not exactly an encouraging list when thinking about what you’re putting into your and your family’s bodies.
Our focus is on making food simple again. We’ve done the research, so you don’t have to. It’s daunting to flip over the package and skim through a list of fifty ingredients that you’ve never heard of, so let’s change that. ADA has landed a spot on our banned ingredients list, but the bigger takeaway here is to consume more fresh, whole foods, and less of the packaged stuff. It can be hard to keep track of everything that’s coming into your kitchen, but when you adjust to a more natural diet, you eliminate the possibility of so many harmful chemicals.
Let’s raise the bar on transparency, and become active ambassadors of our own health.