Food emulsifier health concerns

I wanted to write this post on food emulsifiers because it ties on with another post on Gut bacteria and obesity. It may seem like a difficult topic with too much science but it is worth looking into.

We know refined grains and sugars are not good but what about food additives such as food emulsifiers?

What are food emulsifiers?

  • Food emulsifiers are substances that help blend oil and vegetables in the food that we eat.
  • Food emulsifiers help prevent food separation and help improves foods texture and appearance.
  • Foods such as peanut butter, ice cream, dips, salad dressings and bread commonly have emulsifiers.
  • There are both natural and chemical emulsifiers.
  • There are about 15 different food emulsifiers that are commonly used in the United States.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that food emulsifiers are generally regarded as safe because there is no evidence that they increase the risk of cancer or have toxic effects in mammals.

Types of food emulsifiers

Natural or raw examples of emulsifiers

    • Palm oil
    • Rapeseed oil
    • Soybean oil
    • Sunflower oil
    • Eggs
    • Soy lecithin
    • CSL Calcium Stearoyl Di Laciate
    • PolyGlycerol Ester (PGE)
    • Sorbitan Ester (SOE)
    • PG Ester (PGME)
    • Sugar Ester (SE)
    • Monoglyceride (MG)
    • Acetylated Monoglyceride (AMG)
    • Lactylated Monoglyceride (LMG)

Food emulsifiers can be made from plants and animals

  • Lecithins are usually extracted from sources such as egg yolk and soybeans.
  • Algin, carrageenan, and agar are derived from algae.

A research article published about food emulsifiers showed that,

“Artificial preservatives used in many processed foods could increase the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases and metabolic disorders, according to research published on 25 February 2015 in Nature”. In a study done in mice, chemicals known as emulsifiers were found to alter the makeup of bacteria in the colon — the first time that these additives have been shown to affect health directly.”

What did the mice studies show?

  • Immunologist Andrew Gewirtz at Georgia State University in Atlanta fed common food emulsifiers (carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80) to mice.
  • Mice whose water contained the chemicals became obese and developed problems such glucose intolerance.
  • Mice who were genetically modified to have an increased risk of inflammatory disease appeared to experience higher rates of inflammatory bowel disease when they were fed food emulsifiers.

Bacteria and the gut lining

  • The researchers found there was less diversity in the numbers of different types of bacteria in the intestines.
  • Prior studies show that people who have a greater amount of different types of bacteria have less of a chance of developing obesity and diabetes.
  • The researchers in this study also found evidence that the bacteria had migrated closer to the cells lining the gut.
  • It is possible that the bacteria can break down the protective mucosa layer of the intestines which lead to a greater risk of inflammation and possibly metabolic changes such as weight gain and insulin resistance.

Reference-Sara Reardon Nature 2015

Artificial sweeteners

  • There is also concern that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin can cause metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes by changing the makeup of bacteria in the gut in both mice and humansSuez, J. et al. Nature 514, 181186 (2014).

Summary of food emulsifiers

  • Again, I understand this may be too scientific but it is an interesting study.
  • The bottom line is that mice who were fed food emulsifiers had a greater risk of obesity.
  • It may be that some people are more prone to develop diabetes and obesity but their risk of these diseases increases with food additives such as an emulsifier.
  • It is evident that more research needs to be performed on food emulsifiers.
  • In addition, animal studies do not always correlate with what would happen in humans.
  • That being said other studies performed in humans do show that people with altered gut bacteria have a higher risk of insulin resistance.
  • With the increased risk of obesity, it is probably best to avoid processed foods that contain emulsifiers and stick with fresh or frozen foods.

What do you think of food emulsifiers?



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