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The [Potential] Effect of Emulsifiers

March 9, 2015

People are always trying different methods of achieving a healthy weight. For those who feel extreme pressure to "cook more," or for that matter do not know how to cook at all, this may result in an increased use of processed foods. Frozen diet meals, foods labeled "low fat" or "healthy," and even meals sent straight to your door (i.e. Nutrisystem) become an area of interest. Why not have the best of both worlds - convenience and nutrition? We all know that most processed foods aren’t good for us, but not when it comes to misleading labels and those directed towards "health" or "weight loss" (truly, there is really little difference between the two).

A recent study looked at how emulsifiers, compounds in food that help promote texture and prevent separation, may relate to inflammatory bowel disease and symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome such as unhealthy weight gain and insulin resistance (the cornerstone for development of diabetes). The bacteria in the gut are involved in our overall health in many ways (as mentioned in previous articles) - we are dependent on the environment they create inside our bodies. Certain emulsifiers may actually disturb this environment, causing health issues for us. In the study, low concentrations of these commonly used emulsifiers (carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80) resulted in distinct alterations to gut bacteria. These changes resulted in a pro-inflammatory state; we know that inflammation is the cornerstone of most chronic disease.

Some argue that the impact of including emulsifiers bears no reason for concern in humans; in fact, the study used mice. However, the research conducted showed that mice whose gut bacteria were affected by emulsifiers affected healthy mice when emulsifier-altered gut bacteria was transplanted into them. In other words, the gut bacteria environment changed so drastically that when the bacteria were transplanted into a healthy subject, that subject had the same negative health effects as the donor. Now, is this reason for major concern? No - it is way more likely for obesity, symptoms of metabolic syndrome (mentioned above), and inflammation to occur in someone who makes poor dietary choices than in someone otherwise healthy but consuming a food with an emulsifier. Overeating, especially foods high in fat, sugar, and calories, is the major cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Still - this information is good to know in order to help people choose foods a bit more wisely, a bit more fresh, and bit less processed. As always, we at The Sage: Nutritious Solutions hope this information helps.

Happy Eating!

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