What do yoga mats, rubber shoe soles, and Subway's bread all have in common? Azodicarbonamide--a chemical compound used to make bread rise faster and give yoga mats and running shoes their elasticity.
The compund is approved by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)--as long as it's used in extremely small amounts--but recently, the sandwich chain came under fire when a food blogger drew attention to the chemical in the bread.
Why? Because the ingredient is banned in the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand--meaning 5,202 international chains don't sell breads with azodicarbonamide in it. But U.S. breads still include it. That could be because the compound is largely untested for long-term health effects--though limited studies show it is linked to asthma and various skin diseases--according to Alan Aragon, Men's Health nutrition advisor.
But know this: "It's risky to eat," says Aragon. "The World Health Organization recommends 'reducing exposure levels as much as possible,'" he states. "In other words? Don't eat it."
Here's where it gets tricky. Subway has three bread varieties--9-Grain Wheat, Italian, and Sourdough--that serve as the bases for their 10 types of bread. Azodiacarbonimide is listed in the ingredient information for all three bases, but glossed over in the remaining seven. In the picture of Subway's ingredient list below, azodiacarbonimide isn't listed as an ingredient in Honey Oat bread because "9-Grain Wheat" is. The problem? It's unlikely you'll read the ingredient list for the 9-Grain Wheat, too.
But while Subway has fallen under fire, it's not the only food chain fluffing its bread with chemicals fit for athletic gear. Many other fast food companies use azodicarbonamide in their breads and buns, too: McDonalds, Wendy's, and Arby's, readily display the ingredient online.
Subway says they're working on taking the chemical out of the bread, but they haven't yet defined a deadline for when to expect azodicarbonamide-free sandwiches. In the meantime, if you need your regular Subway--or fast food--fix, there are safe options: The flatbreads and wraps do not contain azodicarbonamide, since they are not raised breads, according to Subway's ingredient lists. Or try one of these gourmet sandwiches to make at home.