Azodicarbonamide, the Chemical Used in Fast Food and Yoga Mats, Explained

February 12, 2014

Must See Nutrition Videos

If you live on planet Earth and need to eat, you've probably read stories recently about azodicarbonamide, a chemical used as a food additive and in the production of foamed plastics (think: yoga mats and shoe soles).

The Internet has been abuzz about azodicarbonamide since a food blogger named Vani Hari launched a petition asking Subway to ban it from eight of their breads that contain the additive. Within days, Subway vowed to stop using it.

So what was that chemical in your Cold Cut Combo, and is it dangerous?

What exactly is azod . . . eye-zod . . . How do you say it?

Azodicarbonamide (pronounced eye-zo-die-car-BON-amide) is a manufactured chemical compound that can be used as a foaming agent in the production of a variety of plastics; but it can also be used in the production of baked goods like breads and cereals. At room temperature, azodicarbonamide looks like an orange, crystal-like powder.

Why would anyone put a plastics foaming agent in food?

Because it “results in increased loaf volume, finer grain, softer texture and superior dough-handling qualities,” among other things. The American Bakers Association told CNN that “as a dough conditioner, it has a volume/texture effect on the finished loaf. It is a functional ingredient that improves the quality of bread.” The food is listed as “Generally Regarded as Safe” by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Do other countries agree with that assessment?

Not all. Use of azodicarbonamide as a food additive is prohibited in Australia and Europe. The World Health Organization has expressed concern that it may be linked to respiratory issues. According to the Chicago Tribune, “in Singapore, use can result in up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of $450,000.” (But Singapore is pretty tough when it comes to punishing offenses.) Canada allows the use of azodicarbonamide in food.

Do other restaurants use azodicarbonamide? And in what types of foods?

Yes, plenty. An NBC news report listed McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Chick-fil-A among the restaurants whose food contains azodicarbonamide. The compound usually shows up in soft breads or sandwich buns.

OK, I’m kind of freaking out right now. I’ve definitely eaten at those restaurants. Give it to me straight—how long do I have to live?

Relax. The FDA has found the compound to be safe, and although its “Generally Regarded as Safe” designation has recently come under fire, to date no study has  linked consumption of azodicarbonamide to any adverse effects in people. The WHO study (the main one cited by Hari) notes that oral exposure can lead to infection of the kidneys in “several species”—i.e., not humans—and that the infected kidneys occurred in animals that had oral exposures over 200 mg of azodicarbonamide per kilogram of body weight for up to a year.

By comparison, FDA regulations state that manufacturers cannot use more than 2.05 grams per 100 pounds of flour. That’s less than a 10th of an ounce per 100 pounds.

The same WHO report cites respiratory issues like asthma among some people who were exposed to azodicarbonamide. But those individuals were breathing in the compound, not ingesting it.

Even so, I really don’t want to have to worry about eating stuff like this at lunch.

That’s a fair point. And it's probably why Subway announced it will stop using azodicarbonamide.  “We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts, despite the fact that it is [a] USDA and FDA approved ingredient,” Subway said in a statement.

What about all of the other restaurants that use azodicarbonamide?

We’ll have to wait and see if they drop it, too—and if Hari takes aim at them. Her petition to Subway garnered 88,000 signatures within a week.

Should I lose sleep over this?

Over the foods containing azidocarbonamide that you've eaten in the past? No. But it is always a good idea to pay attention to the ingredients in your food. "The less processed, the better" is a good general rule of thumb.

Sam DeHority
- Sam DeHority is an Associate Editor at STACK Media. He was previously a member of the editorial staffs at 'Men’s Fitness' and 'Muscle & Fitness,'...
Sam DeHority
- Sam DeHority is an Associate Editor at STACK Media. He was previously a member of the editorial staffs at 'Men’s Fitness' and 'Muscle & Fitness,'...
Must See
Derrick Rose Explains How He Stays Positive
Views: 5,941,524
Patrick Willis' Homegrown Off-Season Workout
Views: 1,225,771
NFL Wide Receiver Randall Cobb Outworks Everyone
Views: 28,207,060

Featured Videos

A Day in the Life of NBA D-League Star Seth Curry Views: 68,298
Kevin Love's Cone Hop Basketball Shooting Drill Views: 6,362
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Views: 127,960
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,308,654
What Ryan Hall Eats for Breakfast
Views: 795,225
STACK Fitness Weekly: How To Do a Muscle-Up
Views: 778,612
Greg Nixon's Hill Training Program
Views: 705,718
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,560,472

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Why Your Gut Might Be the Most Important Part of Your Body

The Right Way to Gain Weight During the Off-Season

Fuel Your Performance with Peas

8 Recovery Foods Recommended by Sport Dietitians

Eat Like a Champion, Part 2: How to Lose Fat Safely

4 Endomorph Diet Strategies to Accelerate Fat Loss

3 Tips to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Game-Day Nutrition for Soccer Players

Macronutrients, Part I: Carbohydrates

Why Are People Drinking Charcoal?

Why Chicken Soup Strengthens Your Immune System

Why Every Athlete Should Drink Tea

How to Turn Nutrition Goals Into Actions

Are 'Healthy Chips' Really Healthy? 5 Popular Options Examined

Performance-Boosting Snacks with a Satisfying Crunch

Cheerios With Quinoa: Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You

How to Build a Meal Plan to Suit Your Body Type

How and Why to Eat Mindfully

Avoid Pigging Out: How to Conquer Food Cravings

Bone Broth Breakdown: Should You Eat This 'Super' Soup'?

Study Ranks Paleo As Second-Worst Diet

What You Need to Know About Protein

Halftime Snacks for Quick Refueling

Post-Holiday Chocolate Health Benefits

Is It Okay to Eat the Same Thing Every Day?

How 100 Pro Athletes Like Their Eggs

Are Chokeberries the Next Super Food for Athletes?

What You Need to Know about Fats

The Soccer Tournament Nutrition Checklist

How Can Zero-Calorie Diet Soda Be Bad for You?

Fuel Up for Soccer Like the U.S. Women's National Team

Feed for Speed: 5 Foods and Supplements That Make You Faster

The Nutrition That Powers Joe Thomas's Iron-Man Streak

Russell Wilson Wants You to 'Eat the Ball'

Big Breakfast, Small Breakfast, No Breakfast: Which Is Best?

Eat Like a Champion, Part 3: Post-Workout Nutrition

12 Grab-and-Go High Protein Snacks

Surprising Muscle-Building Snacks

Types of Yogurt: What's New and What's Best for Athletes

5 Changes Fast-Food Restaurants Are Making to Become Healthier

Simple Nutrition Tips for Faster Workout Gains