The “yoga mat” chemical softener officially known azodicarbonamide hit the headlines last week when Subway announced they were dropping the ingredient from their sandwiches. But chances are, you’re still eating it – the chemical is in close to 500 foods still on the market – and in your kitchen – according to a report issued today by the Environmental Working Group.
Bread, bagels, pastries, pizza, tortillas, hamburger and hot dog buns often contain azodicarbonamide, which is used to bleach flour, and to make dough more elastic.
Why is azodicarbonamide (ADA) called the “yoga mat” chemical? Because its primary use is in plastic and rubber products like yoga mats and flip flops, where it’s used to make them softer and more stretchy. According to the scientists at the EWG, azodicarbonamide functions “like champagne for plastics,” aerating plastic with tiny bubbles to make it lighter, spongier, and more flexible.
The concern: Azodicarbonamide is known to increase the risk of asthma, allergies and skin problems – and some experts believe it hasn’t been adequately tested in humans at the concentrations it’s commonly used at.
In its report, provocatively titled “500 Ways to Make a Yoga Mat Sandwich,” the Environmental Working Group lists more than 130 companies, from Betty Crocker to Pillsbury to Little Debbie, which use azodicarbonamide in their products. But the big “conventional” bakers aren’t the only ones on the list; more “health”-oriented brands like Earth Grains, Nature’s Own, Artisan’s Choice, and even Manischewitz use it also. (Including, experts warn, in products labeled “natural” and “whole grain”.
In the U.S., the FDA has approved azodicarbonamide for use in food, and it’s allowed in Canada too. But Australia and many European countries have banned its use in food. The Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, is so incensed about azodicarbonamide that they’re circulating an online petition to get the chemical banned in the U.S.
According to the Environmental Working Group’s report, ADA has gotten a pass this far because it’s not considered toxic by the FDA, as long as it’s used in concentrations below 45 parts per million. However, the World Health Organization prepared a chemical assessment report that expressed concern about the effects on bakery and other food workers who handle large volumes, and who have reported respiratory symptoms and skin reactions. However, there hasn’t been extensive testing to investigate ADA’s health effects.
While Subway got singled out thanks to a viral petition circulated by Food Babe blogger Vani Hari, many other restaurant and fast food chains use azodicarbonamide, including:
- Marie Callendar’s
- Burger King
- Dunkin Donuts
So how dangerous is this latest “red flag” food additive? Honestly, not so bad, at least when compared to some of the other chemicals, like BPA, that have raised a hue and cry in the past few years. But do you want it in your food, especially foods many of us eat several times a day? No, not really, especially since its longterm effects really aren’t known yet. The advice, as always: Read labels carefully, choose the least processed products with the fewest number of additives, and stick to home-made whole foods whenever possible.