Few food items conjure goodness and comfort like baked goods. But, like most popular foods, manufacturers have removed their nutritional value by augmenting baked products with synthetic ingredients. These serve no other purpose than to enhance a corporation’s bottom line.
New research found that the addition of one artificial ingredient known as potassium bromate, is of particular concern.
Potassium bromate is added to wheat flour to strengthen the dough and enable it to rise higher. It bleaches the dough and increases its elasticity by making tiny bubbles that help the bread rise. So, you get a loaf that’s soft, fluffy and oddly, white.
About 84 per cent of bread and bakery samples tested by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) were found to have residues of two chemicals: potassium bromate (KBrO3) and potassium iodate (KIO3). Both are used as flour “improvers” or “strengtheners” to make the bread softer and fluffier.
According to Livescience.com, the problem arises when “bromate flour isn’t baked for long enough or at a high enough temperature, or if too much potassium bromate is added in the first place.”
What happens then is that the bromate can potentially be found in the final product in far greater quantities and this is a problem around the world in countries that allow its use, scientists say.
In 1982, Japanese researchers published the first in a series of studies showing that potassium bromate causes cancer in the thyroid, kidneys and other parts of rats and mice. It was after these findings that many countries banned the chemical.
The UK and the European Union banned potassium bromate as early as 1990. China, Canada, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand have also banned its use.
In America, California lists potassium bromate on its Proposition 65 of established carcinogens. It is the only state to take any measures to warn people of the serious health dangers of the chemical.
The countries that have banned potassium bromate as a recognised carcinogen and link it to kidney tumours, mesotheliomas (testicular and other cancers) and thyroid gland tumours. The thyroid gland is situated at the front of your neck and is responsible for regulating your body’s thermostat, metabolism and other essential functions.
However, the synthetic ingredient goes beyond cancer to damage the body’s own genetic material (known as “genotoxic”). It has been shown to cause breakage in DNA strands resulting in genetic damage in research published in the journal Chemico-Biological Interactions.
A study published in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis found that potassium bromate also causes significant damage to microscopic components of cells that are responsible for breaking down food into useful components to ensure our cells are replenished and strong.
The food industry has for years claimed that potassium bromate transforms during the baking process into one that does not cause cancer (from potassium bromate to potassium bromide); however, numerous tests published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants show potassium bromate is detectable even after baking.
Chemicals in baked foods cause various cancers in humans. It is time to adopt organic methods of preparing baked foods.
Dr G. R. Neel is an associate professor at the Department of Biotechnology, INES Ruhengeri, Musanze.