March 2, 2016
Last Updated:
March 4, 2021

This Food Additive Could Be Making You Sick

Many people have already given up bread because of popular low-carb diets and the rise of gluten sensitivities. (Learn about whether you should actually fear gluten and grains here)

But now, there’s yet another reason to pass on the bread—or more importantly read labels more carefully: Recent analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found a potentially cancer-causing food additive in 86 brands of breads and other baked goods. Potassium bromate was discovered in well-known products including Hormel Foods breakfast sandwiches; Weis Kaiser rolls and French toast; and Goya turnover pastry dough.

So what exactly is potassium bromate, and why is it being used in so many baked goods? This food additive is added to flour to make the dough firm and help it rise, and it also creates the white color.

The EWG first warned about potassium bromate in 2014 when it listed the ingredient on its Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives list, which also includes artificial coloring and nitrates/nitrites. According to the analysis, the EWG says potassium bromate has been shown to cause cancer and tumors in animals, and can also damage genetic material in human liver and intestinal cells. “With our new analysis, we hope to shine a light on this unnecessary additive and pressure companies to find better ingredients for their products,” says Nneka Leiba, EWG’s deputy director of research and co-author of the report.

Here’s what’s troubling about the heavy use of potassium bromate in the United States: According to the EWG, the additive is already banned in places such as the United Kingdom and Canada, and California requires foods containing the ingredient to have a warning label. The food industry, on the other hand, says potassium bromate is converted to the non-carcinogenic potassium bromide during baking, so it’s of no health concern.

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While the verdict is still out about the potentially negative health effects of potassium bromate, at Integrative Nutrition we favor a whole foods based approach and limiting consumption of products with additional additives.

Of course, it’s also important not to stress too much about avoiding every potentially unhealthy food out there. Yes, you should read labels and stay informed, but there’s no need to be a “food perfectionist.” At Integrative Nutrition, we embrace the 90/10 principle, which means eating the foods you know are healthy 90% of the time, and indulging a bit the other 10%. Life is more relaxing that way!

Do you avoid foods with potassium bromate? Let us know in the comments. 

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