By Dr. Mercola
The sandwich chain Subway advertises itself as “the undisputed leader” in providing consumers with healthier meal options. Many have been thoroughly convinced that Subway’s sandwiches are, in fact, better for you than a burger and fries or another fast-food meal.
But make no mistake… while Subway bills itself as a provider of fresh bread, vegetables, meats, and cheeses, in reality, it is nothing more than fast food -- and all that it entails.
Chemicals, artificial ingredients, corn syrup… all of these are common in Subway sandwiches, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their bread, too, is chemically altered.
Subway would like you to think of their bread as freshly baked, just like your grandmother would make, but I’m fairly certain your grandmother didn’t add azodicarbonamide to her bread the way Subway does.
Subway Announces Plan to Remove Azodicarbonamide from Bread
Earlier this month food blogger Vani Hari, known as Food Babe, launched a petition to remove azodicarbonamide from Subway sandwich bread.1 This was after she had made repeated attempts to reach out to Subway since June 2012, inquiring why they are using this potentially dangerous chemical in their food.
To date, the petition has received more than 78,000 signatures, and Subway’s social media sites have been overrun by comments urging the company to clean up their act… or at least their ingredients.
In the US, Subway uses azodicarbonamide in a number of their breads (including 9-Grain Wheat, Italian White, Roasted Garlic, Sourdough, and more) – but it does not use the chemical in its products sold elsewhere, like the UK, EU, or Australia.
Coincidentally (according to Subway, which said that the move was not prompted by Food Babe’s petition), Subway has released a statement saying they are in the process of removing azodicarbonamide from its bread sold in US stores, a conversion they said will be done “soon.”
Azodicarbonamide Potentially Linked to Cancer and Respiratory Issues
So why all the uproar over azodicarbonamide? Azodicarbonamide is used as a dough conditioner not only by Subway but also by other fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Arby’s, and Starbucks. Although it’s approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s illegal to use as a dough improver in the European Union and Australia.
Azodicarbonamide is not only used in commercial baking, it’s also used in yoga mats, shoe rubber, and other materials, like synthetic leather. There is concern that this chemical might cause chronic diseases including cancer and, possibly, asthma and allergies. As reported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI):2
“Two suspicious chemicals form when bread with azodicarbonamide is baked. One of the breakdown products is semicarbazide, which caused cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice, but poses a negligible risk to humans.
A second breakdown product, urethane, is a recognized carcinogen. When azodicarbonamide is used at its maximum allowable level, it leads to slightly increased levels of urethane in bread that pose a small risk to humans. Considering that many breads don't contain azodicarbonamide and that its use slightly increases exposure to a carcinogen, this is hardly a chemical that we need in our food supply.”
There Are Still Other Chemicals in Subway’s Food
Anytime a potentially dangerous chemical is removed from a popular food, it’s progress. But keep in mind that this is only one concerning ingredient used in Subway sandwiches. For starters, the sandwiches themselves are based around processed meats.
Processed meats are those preserved by smoking, curing, or salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives, which includes bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, and more. Particularly problematic are the nitrates that are added to these meats as a preservative, coloring, and flavoring.
The nitrates found in processed meats are frequently converted into nitrosamines, which are clearly associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Meat cooked at high temperatures, as many processed meats often are, can also contain as many as 20 different kinds of heterocyclic amines, or HCAs for short.
These substances are also linked to cancer. Beyond the processed meats, however, is a startling array of chemicals added to even seemingly simple foods. For instance, here are several examples of what’s really in Subway foods (the following are only partial ingredient listings):3
- BMT Meats (Genoa Salami, Pepperoni, and Ham): Corn syrup, preservatives (including polysorbate 80), rendered pork fat, caramel color, modified food starch, grill flavor, and sodium diacetate (an antimicrobial agent)
- Egg Omelet Patty: Premium egg blend made from isolated pea product and propylene glycol, butter alternative made from hydrogenated soybean oil and artificial flavors, TBHQ (a chemical preservative so deadly that just five grams can kill you), and dimethylpolysiloxane (an anti-foaming agent)
- Chicken Breast Strips: GMO soy protein concentrate, artificial flavors, fructose, disodium guanylate, and disodium inosinate (flavor enhancers)
Even their cheddar cheese, pickles, and banana peppers contain artificial colors and some of their breads (including Italian Herbs & Cheese and Parmesan/Oregano) contain artificial flavors. And Subway does little in the way of finding sustainable, healthy sources of their meats, which means most come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). As the Food Babe put it:4
“To top it off, the majority of foods at Subway have been conventionally sourced and probably include pesticides, antibiotics, and/or growth hormones. In my research, I didn’t find one single organic ingredient or menu item available at over 36,000 stores. Even the lemon juice comes in a pre-packaged squirt pack filled with preservatives.”
Beware: Most Fast Food Is Not Real Food
Since Subway is making headlines for removing one controversial ingredient from their sandwiches, many will now assume the food is healthier than ever. Don’t be fooled. In the majority of cases, if you want real food you’ll need to make it at home, not get it in a fast-food restaurant. If you really want to eat a sub sandwich, you can make one at home using sliced roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, cucumbers, olive oil, and vinegar – the works.
And even though I don’t recommend eating much bread, if you do eat it, it should only contain four or five ingredients – not the close to 50 found in Subway’s 9-Grain Wheat. Ultimately, if you make fast-food eating a habit, while Subway rakes in the profits it is you who will pay the price... with your health. As I have long stated, you can either spend your money on healthful foods now, or you can spend it on medical bills down the road.
Nurturing Your Inner Food Activist for a Healthier, Happier Life
Becoming a food activist starts with leading by example. Truly, one of the most powerful ways to inspire others to change is to demonstrate your beliefs by walking the talk and being the healthiest, happiest, most empowered version of yourself that you can be. Perhaps you’ll start by boycotting Subway and telling your friends about the artificial chemical ingredients in their sandwiches. The idea is to simply share what you know with those you care about so that you all can make healthier decisions now and down the road. Hari also shared other tips for cleaning up your own diet and reaching out to others to share what you’ve learned. This includes:
- Determine healthy replacement foods. While it may not be immediately obvious for people who have grown up relying on ready-made, pre-packaged foods and snacks, you can replace those foods with something equally satisfying that will support, rather than wreck, your health.
- Swap out your local grocer. Swapping out your local grocery store for a natural health food store is one way that can help you find better replacement foods, since many of health food stores like Whole Foods and Earth Fare do not allow certain ingredients to begin with. Also, start shopping at the farmer’s market and eliminate processed foods from your diet.
- Shop online. “That has been one of the most fascinating things to me: if I can’t find an ingredient in my town, I can usually get in on the Internet,” Hari says.
- When eating out, ask your server about ingredients. “Are you using any corn or soybean oil in these products that you’re feeding me today? My salad dressing, does it have soybean or corn oil?” You can open the conversation up in a positive way by asking questions about the foods you’re about to order at a time when everyone’s looking at ingredients anyway.
- Throw organic dinner parties. “Having people come over to your house and trying organic food has really helped inspire my friends to realize that you can eat really healthy and have organic food that tastes great,” Hari says. It’s also a great way to, again, lead by example and show how to cook without processed foods and questionable ingredients.