With the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study highlighting most of the Indian breads laced with potassium bromate or iodate that damage human heath, people are wondering what bread to eat and what not to. In November 2014, Moneylife did a cover story on food to highlight usage of additives in processed foods and how it affects your health. While laws are designed to safeguard the consumer, most laws are implemented poorly in India, compromising your safety. And this continues, unchecked.
In its study, the CSE tested 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads, pav and buns, ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza breads of popular fast food outlets from Delhi and found 84% samples positive with potassium bromate or iodate.
Potassium bromate or bromated flour is used as an oxidising agent in baking. It makes the bread rise better, gives it a uniform consistency, making it unnaturally whiter and fluffier. It also makes the baking process faster. Wraps, rolls, bread crumbs, bagel chips and flat breads contain potassium bromate. This additive becomes bromide in breads an excess of which is linked to iodine enzyme metabolism, which weakens the thyroid and kidneys. The potassium bromate that is not broken down remains in the baked item and is carcinogenic.
In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans. It was found to cause tumours of the kidney, thyroid and cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals.
The European Union had banned its use in 1990. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia have also banned the use of potassium bromate.
Myths & Facts about Your Daily Bread
Authentic breads are originally from Europe and the quality of baked products there are unmatched the world over. Unfortunately, many Indian bread manufacturers have given these breads a complete unhealthy makeover to suit the consumer’s palate and extend its shelf life though a number of food additives. Here are some myths about what we look for in our bread and the alarming truth about what really goes into the so-called healthy breads of India.
Myth 1: Softer is better
Ever been to a local baniya shop and seen consumers literally feel the bread for softness before purchase? One would think that they’re checking a pillow for its fluffiness! According to them, the softer the bread, the fresher and better it is.
Truth: Soft bread does not mean good bread. Surprised? Listen to this. To make the bread soft, the baker increases sugar content and adds harmful chemical additives and emulsifiers. They are called ‘volume enhancers’ or ‘softeners’ like potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide and even include harmful GMO emulsifiers which are banned in European countries.
Quite contrary to the Indian mindset, in Europe, the crustier the bread, the better it is considered. When bread is soft (by adding chemicals & increasing sugar content), it lacks the nutritional value of denser, crustier bread and is unhealthy to consume. Soft breads do exist in the European market as a variant but they are made without the addition of artificial softeners.
Myth 2: The browner your brown bread, the more fibre it has
Nowadays, every bakery caters to the health conscious consumer by having a separate rack of brown bread. For these consumers, the browner the bread, the more fibre it has and is seen as a healthier option than white bread.
Truth: Most manufacturers in India add caramel colour to their normal bread to make it look brown. Even the caramel colour used is not natural as we would imagine (it’s made by heating ammonia). Research has proved that these colours are carcinogenic and make the breads dangerously unhealthy.
Check out the many types of bread marketed under premium brands that state that their major ingredient is ‘wheat flour’. Indian law allows ‘maida’ and ‘wheat flour’ to be used interchangeably. So do not assume it is ‘whole wheat flour’ unless specifically stated. In Europe, ‘brown bread’ is either authentic hi-fibre bread or the wholesome whole-wheat flour bread that derives its colour and fibre content from sources like malt flour, oats bran, wheat bran, etc. Not so in India.
Myth 3: Good breads stay well for several days
If you ever notice the difference between the manufacturing date and the ‘best before date’ on a bread packet, it is anywhere between five to six days. Nowadays, the fact that bread remains fresh for a longer time is a sign of technical advancement in the bakery industry.
Truth: If bread remains fresh and soft for a long time, it is only because of the addition of harmful preservatives. In the bakery industry, these preservatives are mainly calcium propionate and sodium propionate, both of which are linked to ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
It is time we realise the repercussions of consuming breads with such harmful ingredients that can have dangerous long-term side effects. We are used to a particular sweet taste in our breads; this habit of ours can only increase the percentage of diabetics in our country which has been growing at an exponential rate in the past decade. Therefore, it is important that we first change our perception of what is really healthy and what is not. Our taste buds may protest initially; but, after a while, what is good for the body also feels good to our taste buds.
If we avoid using chemicals, there is, indeed, a chance that the bread may degenerate more quickly. So here are three tips to keep your bread fresh without using any preservatives.
• Keep bread in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight.
• Freeze the unused portion within two days. French and Italian breads that are baked without any oils have a very short shelf life, so consider freezing them earlier.
• Allow frozen bread to thaw completely at room temperature. Heat it in an oven before serving.