In Ireland, bread in Subway sandwiches is no longer legally bread, The Independent reported. Heated sandwiches from the international fast food chain exceed the legal limit of sugar additives in bread, and instead must be classified as a “baked good.” Too much sugar can aggravate lactose intolerance.
According to The Independent, the bread used in Subway’s heated sandwiches doesn’t fit the legal definition of bread in Ireland due to its high sugar content. “The [Supreme Court] ruled that with a high sugar content, the sandwich could not be deemed a staple food which attracts a zero Value-Added Tax (VAT) rate,” the article said. “It rejected arguments by a Subway franchisee that it was not liable for VAT on some of its takeaway products, including teas, coffees, and heated filled sandwiches.
“The appeal by Bookfinders Ltd., based in Tuam, Co. Galway, included consideration of whether the bread sold in Subway sandwiches fell outside the statutory definition of bread intended under the Value-Added Tax Act of 1972 to attract a zero VAT rate.”
The article said that the sugar content of Subway’s bread was 10% of the weight of the flour included in the dough. In Ireland, the VAT Act states that the total weight of ingredients “such as sugar, fat, and bread improver” cannot exceed 2% of the weight of flour in dough, which the article says helps differentiate between bread as a staple food and sweeter baked goods.
Besides the well-known problems of high sugar intake, too much sugar can also aggravate lactose intolerance.
Common sugars can cause health problems. Most of us are familiar with the aggravation of the body’s system that develops into type 2 diabetes, but lactose intolerance also involves sugar.
“Lactose is a disaccharide sugar found in milk that needs to be digested by the enzyme lactase into glucose and galactose to be used for energy,” said Dr. Kevin Ahern, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University. “Human babies make lots of lactase to help them digest the lactose in milk; early humans only drank milk while nursing as babies, and the production of lactase was turned off as children moved into adolescence.”
Dr. Ahern said that some people in early human populations may have had mutations that propagated continued lactase production, which he said is a condition called “lactase persistence.” Additionally, once humans started domesticating animals like cows that produce milk—as early as about 10,000 years ago—lactase persistence spread rapidly in areas with domesticated, milk-producing animals.
“Today, many of the descendants of those early dairy farmers are able to digest milk all throughout their lives,” he said. “In parts of the world where milk-producing animals were not commonly raised (like much of East Asia), most individuals, to this day, can tolerate and break down only a small amount of lactose as adults.
“This condition has led to the creation of lactose-free milk, which is typically made using the lactase enzyme, which leaves behind the glucose and galactose sugars instead of lactose.”
It was unclear which steps, if any, Subway would take to amend the situation regarding its bread’s legal status in Ireland. For now, the company and its franchisees may be stuck paying the VAT tax.
Dr. Kevin Ahern contributed to this article. Dr. Ahern is a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University (OSU), where he also received his PhD in Biochemistry and Biophysics.