Feb 14 2014

Eating Yoga Mats

This is the worst example of pseudoscientific fearmongering I have seen in a while, and that’s saying something.

Vani Hari, a blogger known as “food babe,” has started a petition to get Subway to remove use of the chemical azodicarbonamide from their breads. She writes:

Azodicarbonamide is the same chemical used to make yoga mats, shoe soles, and other rubbery objects. It’s not supposed to be food or even eaten for that matter. And it’s definitely not “fresh”.

This, of course, is utter nonsense – that is, the notion that because a chemical has multiple uses, included in non-food items, that it is not “supposed” to be eaten. Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is used as a blowing agent in the formation of certain rubbers and sealants. It is used, for example, in sealing the tops of baby food containers, but also in the production of certain plastics and rubbers. It is also used as a bleaching agent for bread, giving it a softer and fluffier quality. None of this says anything about it’s safety at the levels used.

Hari then gives us a scary list of items that suggest ADA is dangerous. It reminds me of the “dihydrogen monoxide” parody. It shows that pseudoscience is often self-parody. She goes on:

  • The World Health Organization (1) has linked it to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma.
  • The U.K. Health And Safety Executive has recognized azodicarbonamide as a potential cause of asthma. (4)

 Here is what the WHO actually says:

“Case reports and epidemiological studies in humans have produced abundant evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma, other respiratory symptoms, and skin sensitization in exposed workers. “

In exposed workers – people working in factories where ADA is used as a blowing agents and who therefore might get direct exposure to the aerosolized chemical. This has absolutely no relevance for the risks of its use in making bread. The referenced UK health report states:

Evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma in humans has been found from bronchial challenge studies with symptomatic individuals and from health evaluations of employees at workplaces where azodicarbonamide is manufactured or used.

So if you have asthma, don’t breath it in. She continues:

  • When a truck carrying azodicarbonamide overturned on a Chicago highway in 2001, it prompted city officials to issue the highest hazardous materials alert and evacuate people within a half mile radius! Many of the people on the scene complained of burning eyes and skin irritation as a result. (3)

Again – exposure to large amounts of the pure chemical is not the same as being exposed to tiny amounts in food. The same caution would be appropriate for a spill of any concentrated pure chemical found in food.

  • When azodicarbonamide is heated, there are studies that show it is linked to tumor development and cancer. (5)

She is referring to a breakdown product, semicarbazide (SEM). Here is a review of the safety of this chemical from ADA use in baby food jars:

SEM shows limited genotoxicity in vitro that is largely prevented by the presence of mammalian metabolic enzymes. Negative results were found in vivo in DNA alkaline elution, unscheduled DNA synthesis and micronucleus assays. This pattern is in contrast to the genotoxic hydrazines that also have been shown to cause tumours. Carcinogenicity studies of SEM are of limited quality, show a questionable weak effect in mice at high doses, which are not relevant to human exposure at trace levels, and show no effect in the rat. The IARC has assigned SEM as Group 3, ‘Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans’. Based on estimates of exposure to infants consuming baby foods (with the assumption of SEM levels at the 95th percentile of 20 ng g(-1) in all of the consumed ‘ready-to-eat’ foods) compared with a no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) in developmental toxicity studies, the margin of safety is more than 21 000.

An apparently more responsble food blog, Food Insight, also notes:

As of Feb. 10, 2014, SEM is listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.” SEM does not appear on California’s Proposition 65 list of “Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.” The National Toxicology Program’s “12th Report on Carcinogens” does not list SEM either as a “Known Human Carcinogen” or a “Reasonably Anticipated Human Carcinogen.”

The evidence shows that ADA and SEM, at the levels consumed in food, are negligible and pose no human health risk.

But, Hari adds:

  • Not only is this ingredient banned in Europe and Australia, but you also get fined 450,000 dollars if you get caught using it in Singapore and can serve 15 years in prison (2).

If you read her own references, specifically the UK report, you will find:

On the basis that azodicarbonamide is a human asthmagen and that the concentrations required to induce asthma in a non-sensitive individual or to provoke a response in a sensitive individual are unknown, it is concluded that there is a risk to human health under present occupational exposure conditions. The level of risk is uncertain; hence, exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible.

In other words – ADA is banned because of the risk of exposed workers directly to the pure gas, not based on any risk in food.

Conclusion

Hari the food babe has created a classic piece of pseudoscientific scaremongering, worthy of dihydrogen monoxide. She has collected a group of factoids that superficially appear scary, but do not relate to the risk of ADA as used in bread. They are designed to mislead and to stoke fears based upon scientific misunderstanding.

She also pulls the common scam of linking to references to support her claims, but not fairly representing what those references actually say.

Unfortunately, it appears that Subway is caving to this petition. I can’t blame them. It’s easy to fearmonger, especially about food, and more difficult to reassure customers with sober scientific facts. They have to think of their business bottom line.

But this essentially means that any blogger can hold any corporation hostage by simply grossly misrepresenting the scientific facts. It is unfortunate – it’s similar to caving into terrorism. I would hope, rather, that the food babe would be exposed for what she is, and that corporations would fight back against these nonsensical attacks.

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50 responses so far

50 Responses to “Eating Yoga Mats”

  1. Bronze Dogon 14 Feb 2014 at 9:08 am

    One of the rules I commonly suggest to people: “If someone’s warning you about how toxic a chemical is, but they don’t mention the dose, they are trying to deceive you.”

    I may want to extend it to how it’s taken in.

  2. Lswanon 14 Feb 2014 at 11:00 am

    Did you know websites like “The Food Babe” and “Natural News” use the same internet that is used to view pornography?? thats pretty much the level of logic she is using…

  3. tmac57on 14 Feb 2014 at 11:08 am

    Sadly for Subway,they were at the same time being attacked by a viral Tea Party boycott message because of a perceived link between their brand and Michelle Obama,and the Tea Partiers jumped on the chance to also circulate this Food Babe bit of nonsense as further proof of how evil they were.

    I suspect that they might also have been afraid of the Streisand Effect,if they chose to stand up to this wholly unfair attack. We all too well understand how refuting a myth or lie,can raise it’s profile and cause the reader or observer to remember the lie/myth. It’s a real quandary.
    That’s why it is important for scientists and skeptics and critical thinkers of all stripes to keep pushing the message to stop , think,and dig deeper for the facts and not just blindly accept these kinds of things that amount to no more than rumor or whisper campaigns.

  4. ccbowerson 14 Feb 2014 at 11:38 am

    Did you know that cold air can trigger asthma? Cold air can also freeze a bucket of boiling water thrown into the air on a cold day. Cold air can also cause the death of nearly every living creature expose to it. Yet LG sold me a product that keeps cold air in my very own kitchen.

    I wish someone had warned me ahead of time with a facebook post or email.

  5. Factoidjunkieon 14 Feb 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Following ccbowers – water too cold or too hot can cause all kinds of hazards. Boiling water can scald and burn skin so thoroughly it can lead to very painful conditions – even death under certain circumstances.

    That’s why my household has a no pasta making rule.

  6. tyroon 14 Feb 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I’m reminded of the fact that flour can be extremely flammable and can be very dangerous if it gets into the air. In the past there have been huge explosions. Wired magazine quotes a milling manager as saying “Flour dust that is suspended in air is more explosive than coal dust” http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/03/the-explosive-t/

    Perhaps we should remove flour from the Subway bread. Just to be safe.

  7. elmer mccurdyon 14 Feb 2014 at 1:32 pm

    It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping!

    Sorry, I just felt that this needed to be said.

  8. aabrown1971on 14 Feb 2014 at 2:37 pm

    @elmer: ROTFLOL

    http://screen.yahoo.com/shimmer-floor-wax-000000185.html

  9. steve12on 14 Feb 2014 at 3:23 pm

    All you need to know about the ‘Food Babe”:

    http://foodbabe.com/2013/06/24/lunch-with-dr-mercola/

  10. Mlemaon 14 Feb 2014 at 3:24 pm

    What a shame. I’m going to miss the soft, fluffy, bleached bread :(

  11. Mlemaon 14 Feb 2014 at 3:33 pm

    i just read on Wikipedia that it can cause the same problems wherever it’s handled “raw” – wouldn’t that include the place where the bread is manufactured? Unclear to me. Certainly the risk wouldn’t include subway, but I’m wondering if the stuff is really necessary if it’s endangering workers?

    And is there any significance to this study?:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21786817

  12. Mlemaon 14 Feb 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Sorry for the consecutive posts – there are several studies on pubmed that indicate that baked goods made from flour containing azodicarbonamide contain semicarbazide, a carcinogen. The amounts very widely and the appearance is only after baking. The USDA says it occurs through the intermediate, biurea. There’s more in the crust than the inside.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15373416
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18303820

    I’m not seeing any disagreement between these and the other articles I found on pubmed.

    Even so, I suspect that the cold cuts are much more dangerous than the bread. :)

  13. kwillcoxon 14 Feb 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Dr. Stephen – there is no good reason to permit this product. It has not been tested completely, shows signs of being dangerous, and causes problems in animals. Yet you act like we are wrong to be concerned, instead of simply permitting big food and big chemical to pour chemicals into bread. You are such a loathsome person, what a whore for big business.

    In the UK, the H.S.E has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitiser (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled with “May cause sensitisation by inhalation.”

    Why does the FDA allow azodicarbonamide to be used?

    As usual, the FDA is pretty clueless when it comes to azodicarbonamide. The FDA’s official database on food additives is called EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States. EAFUS contains more than 3000 additives, including nearly 700 which have not been tested for toxicology. These untested additives are classified as EAF.

    According to EAFUS, the classification for azodicarbonamide is NIL, which officially means, “Although listed as added to food, there is no current reported use of the substance, and, therefore, although toxicology information may be available in PAFA, it is not being updated.”

    While much of the world has recognized that this product should not be added to food, our own Food and Drug Administration apparently doesn’t even know that most commercially made bread in the United States uses this chemical additive.

    Azodicarbonamide is readily converted to biurea. In studies spanning over 1-2 years, rats and dogs received diets containing various amounts of biurea. In the 1-year study, rats and dogs ate diets containing 5 or 10% biurea (Oser et al., 1965 in Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 7:445-472). Most dogs from both dose groups died. Necropsy revealed massive, multiple renal calculi, bladder calculi, and chronic pyelonephritis. The main constituent (comprising 80-100%) of the calculi was identified as biurea.

    Toxicity studies conducted in experimental mammals demonstrate acute toxicity. Azodicarbonamide was also found to be a mutagen in bacterial systems. No adequate studies of carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity, in animals or in humans, have been identified (yet), but case reports and epidemiological studies in humans have produced abundant evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma, other respiratory symptoms, and skin sensitization in exposed workers.

    The main toxic effect of azodicarbonamide in humans is asthmagenicity. Evidence of this effect has been found from bronchial challenge studies and workplace health evaluations.

    There is also information to indicate that azodicarbonamide can cause skin sensitization in humans.

    The occurrence of semicarbazide (SEM) in foods including baby foods, packaged in glass jars and bottles, was first discovered by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and industry through tracing the breakdown of azodicarbonamide. Due to this finding, the EFSA at that time in 2003 advised that SEM should be removed from baby foods as swiftly as technological progress allowed.

    This advice was based on findings that SEM is a weak carcinogen in mice and has weak genotoxic activity (i.e. potential to damage genetic material or DNA) in vitro. The implementation of an EC Directive banning the use of azodicarbonamide in plastics used as food contact materials went into force in 2005.

    In the U.K., the Health and Safety Executive body of regulation has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitiser (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled as such.

    Both The United States and Canada permit the use of azodicarbonamide at levels up to 45 ppm which is simply an arbitrary number that studies have not been able to confirm or deny correlation dosage to disease in humans.

    Why Add This Ingredient To Bread and Cereals?

    Simply put, it keeps bread fresher, longer. That means more bread and cereals can stay on the grocery shelf for extended periods.

    But from my perspective, it is definitely another ingredient to be wary of. If any food additive is able to kill any decent size mammal (like a dog), that’s probably not an ingredient I would want to consume.

    Even a chemical that produces a disease such as asthma in its raw concentrated form is not tuned to the natural state of the human metabolism and does not belong in our food at any ANY dosage.

    The food industry has made it their business to remove all living components from natural foods, essentially creating foods that no longer have any active microbials, enzymes or even absorable vitamins and minerals. Processed foods are dead and that’s why they have no nutrient density.

    Processed foods can last months or even years due to the removal of all microorganisms, enzymes, oxygen, and moisture in food. The more chemicals we add, inevitably the less nutrtion and the more risk with toxic overload.

  14. Kawarthajonon 14 Feb 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Steve N, I think you are making light of Dihydrogen Monoxide. It is a potentially hazardous chemical. The UK is having serious problems with DM contamination lately! ;)

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/flooding-along-river-thames-1.2532388

  15. shchasmon 14 Feb 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Everyone stop drinking water! There is hydrogen in it!

  16. ChrisHon 14 Feb 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Steve12: “All you need to know about the ‘Food Babe”:”

    I love the “vortex water.” I can make that up in my own much cheaper blender. Though in the summer I usually prefer to put in some lime juice, simple syrup, rum, a wee bit of Cointreu and then water that is in its solid state. Then give it a whirl.

    (for those who need to ask, it is called a “daiquiri”)

  17. ChrisHon 14 Feb 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Oh, and for those who do not want to click the link. Apparently in the office building used by Mercola they not only grow their own sprouts, but make “Vortex water.” It is water that has been whirled in a blender. Probably an over priced one that he sells on his website.

  18. ChrisHon 14 Feb 2014 at 10:28 pm

    ” but make”… should be “they also.” I think I was giggling too much.

    I also just told my college age daughter this, and she laughed. She guessed it must be special water because it had been through lots of action.

  19. tmac57on 14 Feb 2014 at 11:13 pm

    I only drink water that has been pre-processed by dinosaurs. True story :)

  20. kwillcoxon 15 Feb 2014 at 12:40 pm

    The number of industrial chemicals known to trigger brain development problems like autism has doubled in just seven years, experts warned today.

    A new study suggests toxic chemicals may be triggering increases in neurological disabilities among children, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.

    The researchers warn that chemical safety checks need to be tightened up around the world to protect our vulnerable youngsters from a ‘silent epidemic’ of brain disorders.

    Their work also found that the list of chemicals known to damage the human brain but not regulated to safeguard children had also risen from 202 to 214.

    These substances are found in everyday items including food, clothing, furniture and toys.

    ‘The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,’ said Dr Philippe Grandjean, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

    ‘They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance.

    ‘Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.’

    He and his co-authors are calling for universal legal requirements forcing manufacturers to prove that all existing and new industrial chemicals are non-toxic before they reach the market place.

    In the EU, the Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations already impose such rules.

    But without them being applied globally, the world faces a ‘pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity’, warned Dr Grandjean.

    ‘Current chemical regulations are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment,’ Dr Grandjean pointed out.

    Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and cerebral palsy affect one in six children worldwide.

    Growing evidence strongly links these conditions to childhood exposure to hazardous chemicals such as mercury, lead, solvents and pesticides, say the scientists writing in the journal The Lancet Neurology.

    Dr Grandjean and co-author Dr Philip Landrigan from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.

    The vast majority of the more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in widespread use in the US have never been tested for their toxic effects on the developing foetus or child, they argue.

    ‘The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to ensure mandatory developmental neurotoxicity testing of existing and new chemicals before they come into the marketplace’, said Dr Landrigan.

    ‘Such a precautionary approach would mean that early indications of a potentially serious toxic effect would lead to strong regulations, which could be relaxed should subsequent evidence show less harm.’

    A new international prevention strategy is needed that places the burden of responsibility on chemical producers rather than governments, say the experts.
    WHICH CHEMICALS POSE RISKS?

    The report follows up on a similar review conducted by the researchers in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as ‘developmental neurotoxicants’ – or chemicals that can cause brain deficits.

    It offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognised ones.

    These include manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), the solvent tetrachloroethylene, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers flame retardants.

    These six chemicals have been added to a list of five other neurointoxicants – lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene – first identified by the same researchers in 2006.

    The study outlines possible links between these newly recognised neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children.

    Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, while solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour and certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

    They conclude: ‘The total number of neurotoxic substances now recognised almost certainly represents an underestimate of the true number of developmental neurotoxicants that have been released into the global environment.

    ‘Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.’

    Dr Grandjean added: ‘The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international.

    ‘We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development

    ‘Now is the time to make that testing mandatory.’

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2560068/Young-risk-silent-epidemic-brain-disorders-Study-finds-growing-number-chemicals-linked-problems-like-autism.html#ixzz2tPdDzGYo
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2560068/Young-risk-silent-epidemic-brain-disorders-Study-finds-growing-number-chemicals-linked-problems-like-autism.html#ixzz2tPd3jTYm
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2560068/Young-risk-silent-epidemic-brain-disorders-Study-finds-growing-number-chemicals-linked-problems-like-autism.html#ixzz2tPcv7ntg
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2560068/Young-risk-silent-epidemic-brain-disorders-Study-finds-growing-number-chemicals-linked-problems-like-autism.html

  21. SteveAon 15 Feb 2014 at 4:54 pm

    kwillcoxon:

    “In the UK, the H.S.E has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitiser (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled with “May cause sensitisation by inhalation.”

    “In the U.K., the Health and Safety Executive body of regulation has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitiser (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled as such.”

    The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) lists azodicarbonamide as a substance that can cause occupational asthma. The warning is for factory workers who might inhale it on a day to day basis.

    The list also includes flour, opiates, sawdust, and cow urine (see the whole lot here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asthma/substances.htm).

    Breathing chemicals and particulate matter into your lungs (often over an extended period) is a very different proposition from ingesting something (often in negligible quantities).

    And don’t you think it’s odd that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommended that SEM should be removed from baby foods ‘as swiftly as technological progress allowed’, but didn’t say the same about azodicarbonamide?

  22. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2014 at 9:03 am

    kwilcox – you information is biased, cherry picked, and out of date.

    Regarding the EFSA and SEM, newer published data is available and it changed their ruling:
    “The Panel has concluded that this new information reduces concerns about SEM and that the issue of carcinogenicity is not of concern for human health,”
    and regarding SEM from ADA:
    “The Panel concluded that these sources contribute very little to the intake of SEM.”
    (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/afc050701.htm)

    Regarding biurea – a diet containing 5 or 10% biurea is a massive dose, and says nothing about the safety of the trace amounts that wind up in break made with ADC.

    Your claim that ADC should not be in our food in “ANY” amount is nonsensical. Toxicity is always about dose. If you require that no chemical that can produce toxicity at high doses should be in our food at any dose – then there will be no food left.

    You wrote: “The food industry has made it their business to remove all living components from natural foods”

    This is pure naturalistic fallacy.

  23. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2014 at 9:23 am

    Regarding the Grandjean study: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(13)70278-3/abstract

    First, this is a review, not new data. They do not have solid evidence that the incidence of these neurodevelopmental disorders is actually increasing. That’s still debatable.

    Most of the substances they list are known to be neurotoxic and are already banned or exposures are strictly limited.

    I also note they added fluoride to the list. This is largely based on Grandjean’s own study, which I discuss here http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/anti-fluoride-propaganda-as-news/

    The study in fact did not show any effect at the levels in which fluoride is allowed in drinking water.

    All of this, BTW, has nothing to do with ADC.

  24. tmac57on 16 Feb 2014 at 11:06 am

    If it wasn’t obvious to veteran skeptics, kwilcox’s two comments are almost 100% copy and pasted from other blogs.
    Just select a choice paragraph and do a Google search.Very revealing.
    Also, opening with a sentence like “You are such a loathsome person, what a whore for big business.”
    should be crystal clear evidence that kwilcox is trolling,rather than adding any useful information to the subject at hand.

  25. Mlemaon 16 Feb 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Azodicarbonamide in bread forms a carcinogen. Since it’s not necessary for bread-baking, why use it?

    “If you require that no chemical that can produce toxicity at high doses should be in our food at any dose – then there will be no food left.”

    ??? It may be impossible to remove every toxin from our food – but why add them?

  26. Mlemaon 16 Feb 2014 at 4:00 pm

    …and water.

  27. MikeLewinskion 16 Feb 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Mlema,

    It may be impossible to remove every toxin from our food – but why add them?

    The word ‘toxin’ has a specific meaning in medicine: toxins are substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans (though arguably even this definition is still dose-dependent… every substance created by every plant and every animal is toxic at sufficiently high volume).

    Wikipedia notes:

    A toxin… is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; synthetic substances created by artificial processes are thus excluded.

    So it is a mistake to call azodicarbonamide a toxin.

    I know that, outside of medical jargon, a toxin is something that causes toxicity, and that the broader class of “toxic chemicals” are mistakenly referred to as “toxins” on that basis alone. I realize it may seem like I’m nit-picking a little on this point, because there are more general uses of “toxic” and “toxicity” that extend beyond the strict classification of toxin as derived from living cells.

    But even if we replaced your word “toxin” for “toxic chemicals” there’s still a conundrum. All chemicals are toxic in the wrong dose, including water. Water is a vital component of bread. Why do we add water to bread if it is potentially toxic? Obviously because the dose makes the poison, and you’ll never get water poisoning from eating too much bread (unless you drink too much water separately while washing it down).

    Our human tendency to moralism likes to put all people and all things into “good” and “bad” categories, and so we mistakenly believe that toxicity is a property that a substance either does or doesn’t have and corresponds to “good” and “bad”. But it just ain’t so. All chemicals are toxic. There are more properly only toxic doses, and non-toxic doses.

    I suspect that, in vitro, almost all chemicals also have the potential to create carcinogenic (and tetragenic) effects, again depending on dosage. Our cells didn’t evolve to live naked in petri dishes. I appreciate my skin, mucosa and immune system very much for the job of protecting my cells.

    Take water again. Through metabolism, water breaks down into “reactive oxygen species” that sometimes have carcinogenic effects. In fact, radiation poisoning happens by splitting water molecules already in your body and generating a superabundance of those reactive oxygen species. The age and sex-related maximum x-ray exposures are based on the percentage of your body that is water.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactive_oxygen_species#ROS_in_the_context_of_cancer

    So why add water to our food? We may not be able to eliminate it, but why add something that degrades into carcinogens as part of metabolism?

    Do you see why that question makes little or no sense?

    In making risk assessments of chemicals like azodicarbonamide, dose and method of exposure are just as important as they are for assessing the harm of water (and so the volume of water you can safely drink is necessarily different from the volume you can safely inhale).

  28. Davdoodleson 16 Feb 2014 at 7:30 pm

    So, Dr Novella takes the time and effort to sift though mountains of sometimes confused information, patiently sets out the science in a clear, fact-centric manner, and then…

    …so many people claiming to advocate for better public health simply ignore, crap on, or misrepresent what he has written. And cut-n-paste again the very tropes he has just addressed.

    It’s almost like improvement of public health isnt really much of a priority for them, and certainly not their first priority….
    .

  29. steve12on 16 Feb 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Chris H:

    ‘ I love the “vortex water.” ‘

    Isn’t that awesome? And he even has experiments with vortex water vs. static water. Does that meant that Class V rapids water will cure cancer?

    I’ve come to admire Mercola. It’s like he’s taunting his flock at this point, ya know?

    “Yeah – that’s right, I got a special machine that spins water in a special way that makes it healthier. Now BUY MY SHIT, MFers!”

  30. Davdoodleson 17 Feb 2014 at 12:55 am

    “Vortex Water”

    Maybe the unimaginative Merccola fellow got his idea from these water features outside the new wing of the Canberra (Australia) Airport:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWIFVQhvfWc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EavpjmTMM9A

    Quite impressive, about five or six feet high and 3-4 wide.
    .

  31. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 3:21 am

    MikeLewinski, thank you for your comment. I’m afraid my own was poorly written. I didn’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t add water to food in preparation. Indeed there are foods which can’t be prepared without water. I simply meant to say that I see no reason for adding many of the chemicals that we add to various foods. For instance, I suspect that adding azodicarbonamide to flour in order to make subway sandwich loaves is merely a way to use less flour per volume unit of the baked bread. Breads which contain azodicarbonamide have semicarbazide (a carcinogen) once baked. I linked to some studies on this. We can make delicious bread without azodicarbonamide. So why endanger workers at the bread factory and add a carcinogen to our bread? it doesn’t make sense to me.

    I see no reason to add it to bread except to increase the profit margin and make people feel like they’re getting more bread for their money. Did you ever push down on one of those subway loaves? Not much bread in that bread.
    And just to whet your appetite even more, here’s the ingredients of other Subway foods (check out the “eggs” :)
    http://www.subway.com/Nutrition/Files/usProdIngredients.pdf

    also, regarding harmful chemicals and compounds in our food. One has to consider the additive and cumulative effects. This chemical is ok in small amounts. That chemical and this other chemical are also ok in small amounts, etc. But if we’re eating all of them all the time – what then?

  32. Bill Openthalton 17 Feb 2014 at 4:04 am

    Mlema –

    The vast majority of people is healthier and living longer today than at any time in history. That should tell you something.

  33. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 4:34 am

    the people who are really old right now were adults before we started putting this crap in our foods.

  34. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 4:58 am

    and PS – what’s it supposed to tell me about food additives? Do you really think azodicarbonamide and all the other additives in processed and fast food are helping people live longer?

  35. ziggyon 17 Feb 2014 at 7:01 am

    Crystal Dihydrogen Monoxide has been wreaking havoc over this nation for weeks now!

    I propose a ban on all soy food products because soy is the principle ingredient in many candles and plastic products.

    I’m guessing an asthmatic doesn’t do to well in a flour mill either.

  36. Bruceon 17 Feb 2014 at 7:14 am

    “the people who are really old right now were adults before we started putting this crap in our foods.”

    Whatever other argument you may have, this is one that doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. If those chemicals were killing us we would more people dying at all ages. As I have linked and discussed population data across the UK and the US before I won’t rehash it here. The fact is people are living longer and have longer life expectancy at all ages. That little statement you made above has no data to support it, and if it does, I have not seen it yet.

  37. Steven Novellaon 17 Feb 2014 at 7:15 am

    Mlema – you are assuming that there is cumulative toxicity from multiple substances which are each individually below toxicity thresholds. Do you have any reason for this assumption?

    The human body is exposed to all sorts of toxins at very low levels every day – mostly from natural sources. We have a liver and other methods of normal detoxification to handle these low-level exposures. There is no reason to think there is cumulative harm from sub-threshold exposures.

    But I do agree that it is reasonable to ask, “why is this being added to our food?” There are also several plausible motivations that have nothing to do with the quality of the food – ease of preparation, increased shelf life, increased profitability. There are also reasons that do have to do with food quality – better taste, texture, and reduced contamination/spoilage.

    I already linked to an review article concluding that azodicarbonamide is converted to SEM (the weak carcinogen) in negligible amounts that are 21,000 times lower than threshold.

  38. sonicon 17 Feb 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Dose makes the poison.
    Caffiene- a little- excellent probably health promoting, a bit more- OK, a bit more- sick, a bit more- dead…

    Questions when it comes to food additives-
    why is this in it?
    Is there nutritional value?
    Would a person like the product as much without the additive if he knew what the additive is and what it is for?

    In the case of ‘yoga mat’ bread- we could bake a loaf without the additive and one with it.
    We have the person eat a bit of the first loaf.
    We then show them what we added- what it is, how we get it, what it’s made of-
    to the second loaf.

    Would they still like the bread if they knew what you put in it?

    Should we be telling people what is in their food?

  39. ChrisHon 17 Feb 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Mlema: “the people who are really old right now were adults before we started putting this crap in our foods.”

    And when was that?

    Have you heard of the 1902 “Poison Squad”:

    In 1902 Dr. Harvey W. Wiley (third from the left), chief chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the “human catalyst” who helped coordinate the national campaign for pure food and drugs, started research with human volunteers, officially designated the “Hygienic Table,” to determine the effects of food preservatives on digestion and health. Overnight the press made the “Poison Squad” a national sensation. Wiley’s research showed that such additives as borax, salicylic acid, and formaldehyde were harmful. He became convinced that chemical preservatives should be used in food only when necessary, that the burden of proving safety should fall on the producer, and that none should be used without informing the consumer on the label-basic principles of today’s law and regulations.

    You could probably read a couple of downer books about food safety history in the USA like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair or the first few chapters of Protecting America’s Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation by Philip J. Hilts. But, someone has created a humorous gallery of food that my elderly parents had early in the twentieth century, the same parents who picked up smoking tobacco by mid-century:
    http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/index.html

  40. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Bruce, Chris H, I shouldn’t have replied to Bill O’s comment. I’m unwilling to start investigating stats, so I can’t really argue about past life expectancy. Bill O. likes to imply that because we have a longer life expectancy than we used to that everything we’re doing is helping our health. So, food additives are contributing to life expectancy. My reply was as ridiculous as his implication.

    In the bigger picture We’re eating lots more sugar – check the Subway ingredient list, everything has sugar in it, even the meat. Dextrose, corn maltodextrin, etc. whatever you call it, a sugar by any other name will taste as sweet. We have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. My personal opinion is that this is a bigger problem than many other food additives and contributes to a lowered life expectancy.

    http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/7/1798.long

    PS – Chris H – the first photo I looked at was some kind of egg dish, and i couldn’t look any further. Egads!

  41. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Dr. N: “…you are assuming that there is cumulative toxicity from multiple substances which are each individually below toxicity thresholds. Do you have any reason for this assumption?”

    Only my understanding of physiology, which i admit is imperfect. Generally, i don’t believe we test for cumulative and additive effects of all the various toxins we encounter daily. I think this is the same case for pesticide exposure. I do believe that the sugar and fat in the average US diet is a bigger problem than additives, although pesticides in children is probably a more immediate problem. I’m not a doctor, so of course these are my non-medical opinions.

  42. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 4:46 pm

    “But I do agree that it is reasonable to ask, “why is this being added to our food?””

    Dr. Novella, I have to thank you for that. When i look at this conversation, I wonder how many people defend the addition of azodicarbonamide to bread simply because the food babe makes scientifically inaccurate statements and seems to advocate a “naturalistic fallacy”. It behooves us to abstain from reactionaryism.

  43. ChrisHon 17 Feb 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Mlema: “In the bigger picture We’re eating lots more sugar – check the Subway ingredient list, everything has sugar in it, even the meat. Dextrose, corn maltodextrin, etc. whatever you call it, a sugar by any other name will taste as sweet.”

    Yes, one of the things rubbed on pork bellies to cure bacon is sugar. Pickles are made in a brine with both sugar and salt. Sugar is added to bread dough to feed the yeast. All veggies will have a certain amount of sugars like fructose, glucose, etc, even lettuce. The Maillard reaction when browning meat is a reaction using the sugars that naturally occurs in muscle, though some will add sugar.

    Nothing about that has changed in the past few centuries. The main problem with type 2 diabetes is that people eat too much because access to food is better. Much unlike when my dad was a kid during the Great Depression and the cupboard was bare (plus sometimes there was no wood for the stove). That has absolutely nothing to do with food additives.

  44. Mlemaon 17 Feb 2014 at 5:46 pm

    ChrisH – I’m suggesting that sugar in the diet is a bigger health problem than other food additives.

    “Nothing about that has changed in the past few centuries.”

    I’m not talking about naturally occurring sugars, I’m talking about sugar added to processed foods. If you look at the Subway ingredients list you’ll see what i’m talking about.

    http://www.subway.com/Nutrition/Files/usProdIngredients.pdf

    “Yes, one of the things rubbed on pork bellies to cure bacon is sugar. Pickles are made in a brine with both sugar and salt. Sugar is added to bread dough to feed the yeast. All veggies will have a certain amount of sugars like fructose, glucose, etc, even lettuce. The Maillard reaction when browning meat is a reaction using the sugars that naturally occurs in muscle, though some will add sugar.”

    The Malliard reaction has nothing to do with the sugar added to Subway meats, eggs, etc. If I eat a turkey breast, I have no reason to expect it to contain added sugar. But I’d be stupid to think that Subway’s turkey breast is just turkey breast. But it’s all fairly irrelevant if I drink a 20oz soda with it. I seriously doubt that your Dad drank soda every day like lots of Americans do now.
    And you don’t need sugar to make bread. The flour provides adequate sugars.

    I feel like you’re trying to say that my concerns are irrational because “in the old days” people at lots of sugar. We eat way more sugar now than we used to. And it’s added to many many foods unnecessarily. So much so that now many people think the taste of food without sugar in it is inferior. And so much so that more and more people are developing obesity and diabetes.

  45. Bill Openthalton 18 Feb 2014 at 6:04 am

    Mlema –
    The sugar is added because it works – people prefer eating sweet foods (and salty foods) because that’s what the brain is programmed to like. And it’s programmed to like it because it used to be an excellent strategy to eat as much of the sweet stuff as possible as it was very uncommon. The same applies to salt (as you probably know, salary comes from the practice of paying Roman soldiers partly in salt — it was a very precious substance). The problem is not the quality of the food, it’s ease of access. Food is plentiful and cheap, and that surely is better than expensive and scarce.

    Your beef is that you want the food producers to take responsibility for the health of their customers. While there are good reasons to keep one’s customers alive, this is a long-term planning exercise that doesn’t fit well with meeting quarterly business goals. And even if products would contain less sugar, how do you make sure people don’t eat too much?

    Ultimately, individuals are responsible for their health. And it’s disingenuous to expect manufacturers that compete for the business of the customers to make their products less attractive — if the consumers want healthy food, they should choose it, it’s available.

  46. Mlemaon 18 Feb 2014 at 3:53 pm

    “Your beef is that you want the food producers to take responsibility for the health of their customers.”

    That’s ridiculous. I’m just saying that since nowadays people eat a lot of pre-prepared foods at places like Subway, they might want to consider what’s in those foods and even request that those foods be prepared with less salt and sugar. Sure people like sweets. They seem to like salt too. But they don’t need to eat sugar and salt in all their food, and if they had a chance to eat food without added salt and sugar, they might like it. i do. I can taste the food better. You can always add sugar and salt. If you want to shake some sugar onto your turkey sandwich, that’s fine with me. But suppose I’ve got a busy day? Suppose I’m working two jobs and more hours for less pay like so many working-class Americans are now? Shouldn’t i be able to buy something quick to eat without having to consume added sugar and salt that i don’t want?

    “…if the consumers want healthy food, they should choose it, it’s available.”

    So, you’re basically admitting that fast food is unhealthy, and saying that most people prefer unhealthy food, and if somebody wants healthy food they can go to the grocery store, find it, prepare it ahead of time and carry it with them. OK. But what about the possibility that people THINK they are making a healthy choice by eating a subway sandwich? It may be better than some other fast food choices, but shouldn’t people who are trying to avoid sugar and sodium know that it’s not necessarily the best choice? It seems a bit discriminatory to only offer food that people who desire unhealthy food want to eat, and being a bit misleading about it. Me? I just skip the meat and soda. Cheese and veggies on bread is the best I can do at subway. And a carry-in coffee.

    PS – since limiting sugar and salt in my diet, I find that sugary and over-salted food tastes awful.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/the-feed/248644/processed-meats-declared-too-dangerous-human-consumption

    If you’re fortunate enough to have the kind of grocery in your town where they cook meat and slice it or piece it without processing and offer it for sandwiches at a deli counter, I would suggest you replace your subway visit with a visit to that place. And start checking ingredients at the fast food places you visit. Of course, since you equate healthy with less attractive, you can make it easy on yourself and just continue eating whatever is convenient because you think it tastes good and you’re helping American business to make a better profit by eating unhealthy food. I guess I’m going to have to budget some more money to pay in taxes or health insurance so that you can have surgery for your colo-rectal cancer when it develops.

  47. Mlemaon 18 Feb 2014 at 3:55 pm

    however, I sincerely pray that you are always healthy and never develop cancer.

  48. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2014 at 2:34 am

    I’ve continued to think about this discussion, and i have to add to my last comment that at this point in my long love affair with comestibles, unless I can confirm that a dairy doesn’t use bovine growth hormone and prophylactic antibiotics – I don’t eat their cheese. And unless I can get meat or poultry from a farm I’m familiar with, I don’t eat meat either. There’s a heavy karma attached to most meat in the US right now, and much dairy. Antibiotics are heavily employed in an attempt to prevent the health problems associated with living in filth. Pigs and chickens are housed in cruel conditions and often slaughtered inhumanly. Chicks are dropped into grinders off of conveyor belts. That’s not in your food, but it happens. It’s to cull the males not wanted for breeding. I say – let the chicken reach adulthood picking insects from a yard or garden and chop his head off and eat him if you don’t want to breed him. Too much karma. Fortunately I’m able to get local eggs from people who keep chickens. Eggs have complete protein and healthy fats.
    I haven’t exerted any effort in locating a humane source of meat because at this point I don’t miss it.

    People who live in the city will undoubtedly cry: this is impossible for me and I need these foods. I think I would do as much research as i could on suppliers, look for regional farmers markets or even find meat suppliers online which you can verify. Many will ship frozen meat to you. You have to pay a premium for such things – however – the price of meat is artificially low in the US. If you eat less meat and dairy you will be healthier. Quinoa, amaranth, beans, nuts are all good sources of protein.

    http://www.amazon.com/Meatonomics-Economics-Consume-Much-Smarter/dp/1573246204

  49. R.Anthonyon 22 Feb 2014 at 6:43 pm

    You might want to try directing link traffic through http://www.donotlink.com/ when linking to sites like foodbabe (which would be properly rendered as http://donotlink.com/foodbabe.com/subway/) this will break the links and keep you from driving up linking traffic for bad sites like hers.

    Just a friendly FYI.

  50. Brianon 27 Feb 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks so much for this article. It’s what I’ve been saying to my friends for awhile.

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