Alum-based baking ingredients are to blame for almost one-third of Chinese people consuming quantities of aluminium above the recommended maximum safe level in their diets, according to new research.
Speaking at a food safety forum, Chen Junshi, who is a professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, also reavealed that 40% of the excess aluminium in Chinese diets comes from tainted flour alone. Chen’s research was based on 6,600 samples of 11 kinds of food.
Some Chinese food manufacturers overuse baking ingredients like alum to help make their flour products look and taste better.
However, as aluminium-free baking powders are often more expensive than alum, many manufacturers are reluctant to change the practice.
The consumption of aluminium in excessive quantities can lead to anemia, bone fractures, brain damage and dementia.
While the World Health Organisation recommends a weekly intake of no more than 2mg per kilogram of body weight, 32.5% of the Chinese population ingest levels above this, according to Chen’s research.
Some 44% of the excess amount comes from flour, followed by steamed bread (24%) and fried dough sticks (10%) — a traditional snack for breakfast.
North is hardest hit
People in northern China, who traditionally prefer flour-based products such as noodles, absorb four times as much aluminum as those in the south, the study found.
People from this region have an average aluminum consumption of 2.9mg per kilogram of body weight — a quantity that is almost 1.5 times the recommended amount in China. Moreover, 43% of children aged between four and six eat 2.6 times the maximum recommended amount.
Last week, the Beijing Food Safety Administration identified kinds of substandard food items, including three cakes with excessive aluminum. The products were subsequently taken off the market.
According to the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commence, the spot check revealed that cakes produced by Haoduoduo Pastries Factory and Kangle Food Factory in Hebei Province exceeded the threshold for food aluminum content by two to seven times. Possible causes include the use of aluminum molds and excessive baking powder.