In wake of a CSE study which reportedly found certain harmful chemicals in bread, buns, pavs, pizza bases and other commercially-sold bakery items, doctors and nutritionists have called for stricter regulation of the industry.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study, released on Monday, focussed on two chemicals - potassium bromate and potassium iodate - which are banned in many countries but are widely used by Indian bread manufacturing companies to make bread soft and fluffy.
"It is true that breads, buns and other bakery products contain these chemicals, apart from things like colours. All these can be carcinogenic in the long run," Seema Gulati, the head nutritionist at the private Fortis Hospital, told IANS.
Ruing that there are "few regulations" govern manufacturing of bakery products, she called for "stringent guidelines" for the industry, while also advising parents to see that children do not take too much of such products.
Siddharth Sahni, senior oncologist at Apollo Hospital, said the dangerous nature of potassium bromate was first highlighted in 1990 by Japanese researchers but people did not pay much attention then.
"It was found to cause cancer and damage kidneys. Not much attention was paid then. After 2001, it is a banned food additive in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, across the European Union and many other countries," he said and demanded its use should also be banned in India.
However, while admitting that potassium compounds are harmful, P.K. Julka, a former professor of oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), noted that it is not known what quantity or proportion of them can actually be harmful.
"Potassium bromate disrupts thyroid function, slows down neural and cognitive development and has a carcinogenic potential. But the problem is that it is not known how much of these chemicals can cause damage," he said.
Julka cautioned that before jumping to a conclusion it should be properly investigated as to what quantity of these chemicals can be consumed safely and whether the packaged breads cross that limit or not.
"There should be more research and study on the permissible limits of these chemicals," Julka said.
Umesh Kapil, professor, public health nutrition at AIIMS, meanwhile maintained that chemicals or not, products made of "maida" (refined flour) are actually harmful.
"The food items which don't have dietary fibre are not good for health. Bread is mostly made of 'maida', which doesn't have dietary fibre," he said.