Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

What's Wrong with Fast-Food Bread?

Can you tell me about azodicarbonamide, a chemical I've heard is in fast-food bread and also in yoga mats and shoe leather? I understand it is banned in the European Union and Australia?

Answer (Published 5/6/2014)

This is an interesting story: blogger Vani Hari, known as "Food Babe," single-handedly drew enough attention to the use of azodicarbonamide by fast-food restaurants to get at least one chain, Subway, to stop using it as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner. Reportedly, azodicarbonamide is used in breads and rolls served at McDonald's, Starbucks, Arby's, Wendy's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and various grocery store chains and restaurants. The chemical enables faster and less-expensive bread making. Use of azodicarbonamide in food is banned by Australia and countries in the European Union.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet Source - Want to promote overall health and help minimize the risk of inflammatory diseases? Join Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging, your online guide to the anti-inflammatory diet. Start your 14-day free trial now for access to shopping and eating guides, hundreds of recipes, an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid and more!

Dangers to public health posed by azodicarbonamide appear to be slight based on what we know, which is very limited, as this chemical has not been widely studied. A 1999 assessment by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that studies in experimental mammals showed low acute toxicity and no irritation of the skin, eyes, or respiratory tract but could not identify adequate clinical studies of carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity in animals or humans. However, the WHO assessment found "abundant evidence" from case reports and epidemiological studies in humans demonstrating that azodicarbonamide can lead to asthma and other respiratory symptoms, as well as skin sensitization in workers exposed to the chemical. Adverse effects on other systems in the body have not been studied. (I found only 68 studies in a search of the medical literature.)

The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also found that azodicarbonamide has been poorly tested despite the fact that commercial bakers have used it to strengthen dough for years. CSPI noted that semicarbazide, one of the breakdown products formed when bread containing IT is baked, has been determined to cause cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice, but according to CSPI, poses a negligible risk to humans. Another breakdown product, urethane, is a recognized carcinogen, and CSPI reported that when azodicarbonamide is used at its maximum allowable level, slightly increased levels of urethane are detected in bread that "pose a small risk to humans."

In a press release, CSPI maintains that since breads can be made without azodicarbonamide and because its use slightly increases exposure to a carcinogen, it is not a chemical that we need in our food supply. The organization urged the FDA to consider whether the Delaney amendment applies in this case. That law bars the use of food additives that cause cancer in humans or animals.

Incidentally, in 2013 I reported on an International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) that enrolled nearly two million children in more than 100 countries published online on January 14, 2013 by the journal Thorax. It reported an association between fast food and severe asthma, eczema, and rhinoconjunctivitis (a runny or blocked nose accompanied by itchy and watery eyes). While the study didn't prove that fast food was responsible, it raises a strong possibility that it might be a contributing factor in childhood illnesses.

I'll be interested to see if any of the other chains that use bread made with azodicarbonamide follow Subway's lead, but the use of this chemical is not the only reason to avoid fast food. The obesity epidemic and the threat to health it represents is a much more compelling reason to stay away from processed meals and choose real food instead.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

"Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 16," World Health Organization, accessed February 13, 2014,

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here