What’s in it?: Wonder bread

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Have you ever looked at the label of the bread you buy?

You might not buy Wonder Bread, but there is a good chance that what you do buy is very similar. Most store-bought loaves of bread are loaded with chemical preservatives. These chemicals are put there to allow the bread to stay on the shelves for longer periods of time before spoiling.

One of the problems when looking at a nutrition label is that most people can’t even pronounce the list of ingredients, let alone have any concept of what they are.

I looked online for a popular bread company that had their ingredients labels listed online. I couldn’t find one, so I went and took my own picture of one.

The label below shows the Wonder Bread ingredients from their Classic loaf. I count 29 ingredients, most of which amount to creating a chemical sandwich.

Wonder Bread Ingredients

Below is a breakdown of each of those ingredients:

Wheat flour

Take note, that this in no way signifies 100% whole wheat. Most all bread is made from wheat.

Water

Ok, this one is generally pretty harmless.

High fructose corn syrup (or sugar)

We all know the controversy surrounding HFCS, and regardless of where you stand, it is still a processed sugar added to the product that causes your body to store fat. Added sugar is a culprit for weight gain in our diets.  It causes an insulin response that triggers our fat storage to go into action. It can also affect the immune system and cause diabetes.

Yeast

Dried yeast is another rather benign ingredient that is used to make bread rise.  Organic yeast would be void of pesticides; this product does not use organic yeast.

Soybean oil

While not necessarily hydrogenated, therefore, not high in trans fats, both of these oils are high in types of fats that are bad for our bodies.

Barley malt

Barley is actually a very healthy whole grain.  Malted barley flour is barley that has been dried and ground into flour.

Wheat gluten

Wheat gluten is high in protein and in general isn’t an artificial substance to be worried about. One of the concerns though, about gluten, is that many people are sensitive to it and may not realize it. There are also ties to autism, rheumatoid arthritis and other medical conditions.

Salt

Sodium is a huge issue in our diets and should be avoided, but a small amount is ok.  This bread contains 100 mg of sodium per slice.  The recommended maximum sodium intake from the FDA for an average healthy adult is 1500 mg per day.

Calcium carbonate

Calcium carbonate is a naturally occurring element used to add calcium to food products. 2 slices of Wonder Bread have 30% of the RDA of calcium.

Sodium stearoyl lactylate

Sodium stearoyl lactylate is an emulsifier often used in baking to disperse fats and soften bread. It is generally plant based but requires processing and is likely made from GMO origins. If animal based it could contain antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

Vitamin D3

Many processed foods have added vitamins because, frankly, they have no true nutritional value so the manufacturers add them in. It is not the same as getting the vitamins from the actual source and gives you a false sense of the product’s value.

Vinegar

Vinegar acts as a preservative and in general is considered safe for use in foods.

Mono- and diglycerides

Mono- and diglycerides are emulsifiers that are essentially used to prolong shelf-life. They likely contain trans fats but are not required to be reported on labels as such, so if a product contains mono- and diglycerides yet claims to have 0% trans fats, it is entirely possible it does contain trans fats. Trans-fats have been shown to significantly raise bad cholesterol levels and on top of that, it also lowers good cholesterol.

Calcium sulfate

Calcium sulfate is gypsum. You know, the stuff they make walls out of. It can be naturally occurring or chemically created. It is used for food preservation and in bread to keep if from being too soft and sticky. You might also recognize calcium sulfate as chalk.

Monocalcium phosphate

Monocalcium phosphate is one of the main ingredients in baking powder and baking soda. It is a leavening agent and preservative. Generally thought of as harmless.

Yeast nutrients (ammonium chloride, ammonium sulfate)

Ammonium chloride is an acid forming salt also used as a soldering agent. Ammonium sulfate is used to regulate acid in bread and is used in soil fertilizers. The both work together to help the texture of the bread.

Enzymes

Enzymes act like a catalyst to trigger a reaction. They could be plant or animal based and have any number of bacterial or fungal properties.

Yeast extract

Yeast extract is the inner portion of the yeast culture after the cell walls are removed. It is used to enhance flavor, but some studies say it actually contains MSG.

Wheat starch

Wheat starch is a white powdery substance used as a thickener that comes from the wheat kernel.

Calcium dioxide

I can’t find very much information about calcium dioxide on the web. Calcium oxide and calcium hydroxide (which is not safe to consume) are discussed, but nothing about calcium dioxide. I would assume it’s another one of those filler type products acting also as a preservative.

Ferrous sulfate (iron)

Another nutritional item added to “fortify” the product making it seem like it is a good part of your diet because it contains vitamins and minerals. Again, when not naturally occurring the source and effectiveness should be questioned.

“B” vitamins (niacin, thiamine mononitrate (B1), riboflavin (B2), folic acid)

Like vitamin D3 and iron above, these vitamins are added to the product chemically to make the consumer think they are eating something healthy because it contains necessary nutrients.

Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin is an emulsifier added for texture.  It is oil derived from soybeans, which are quite a controversial topic.  Most of the soybean product today is genetically modified and soybeans themselves in their raw form are toxic.  Soybean crops are also heavily covered in pesticides.  Unless it says non-gmo (genetically modified organism) product, you should avoid soy products.  This package does not specify.

Azodicarbonamide

Azodicarbonamide is a synthetic (artificial) chemical used as a flour bleaching agent. It is also used in plastic production as an additive. The UK has identified azodicarbonamide as a possible cause of asthma and use of it in food is banned in Europe and Australia.

Soy flour

Anything made from soy comes with the likelihood that it is made from GMOs. GMOs are genetically modified to withstand toxic pesticides during growing. Soy is also an endorcrine disruptor and has been blamed for reproductive and hormone issues, especially in children.

Whey

Whey is the by-product from making cheese and is very high in protein. I cannot find any real issues with whey.

Calcium propionate

Calcium propionate is an antifungal used as a preservative. It has been shown to damage stomach lining and cause ulcers and also has been shown to cause behavioral issues in children. Calcium propionate is also a possible cause of migraines.

DATEM

DATEM stands for Diacetyl tartaric and fatty acid esters of mono and diglycerides and generally is derived from oils that are likely GMO. DATEM is used as a dough conditioner.

Sorbic acid

Sorbic acid occurs naturally in plants and is is used in food products as a preservative. It inhibits mold. There are no known dangers in using sorbic acid but companies like Whole Foods will not sell products with sorbic acid in it because of their stance that it does not belong in food.

The bottom line is that the bulk of these ingredients are added to affect the look, feel and shelf-life of the product. They are not nutritionally necessary nor are they needed for flavor. Research has shown that artificial and chemical ingredients in our foods can be causing damage to our bodies, and affecting our children’s health and behavior.

I realize that it’s hard as a busy family to spend time making your food from scratch. Being able to afford organic ingredients in today’s financial climate is a huge challenge as well.

But making your own bread actually requires very little effort.

I encourage you to try it.

Simple homemade white bread recipe

Information sources: 

  • http://www.naturallysavvy.com/
  • http://preventdisease.com
  • http://www.livestrong.com
  • http://www.wikipedia.org/
  • http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/unacceptable-ingredients-food
  • http://www.nutrition.gov
  • http://www.ars.usda.gov
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  1. Dennis Welch says

    Why are we just hearing about this? It would not surprise me if the government
    was involved in OK ing Azodicarbonomide and other ingredients that extend bread shelf life so we don’t live to long on SSI benefits. Wonder if I return my unopened loaf of Country Hearth cracked wheat bread to my grocery store could I get my money back ??

  2. says

    Thank you so much for taking the time and the trouble to research the ingredients and explain them in simple words.

    We avoid commercial wheat products, but I make bread at home with a special blend of organic flours, no yeast or very little yeast, and slow rising processes. My husband thought he was gluten intolerant until I started making bread at home.

  3. Martyn Iv says

    You may also know calcium dioxide as calcium peroxide. It is likely another dough conditioner used to reduce baking time and probably harmless, especially compared to the sugar and bleached flour.