Are you a food manufacturer looking for the next big health claim opportunity, now that the gluten free category is peaking? Here’s a valuable tip: emulsifier free food.
Do you find it surprising that there are so many more morbidly obese people around than there used to be? Are you worried about the sharp rise in the inflammatory bowel diseases ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease? These are things I think about, and I firmly believe that in 50 years –maybe sooner, people will look back on our times and shake their heads, wondering what we were thinking.
I don’t want to sound paranoid, but something seems to be going on in our environment that’s contributing to the trouble. The journal Nature published an intriguing explanation recently, pointing the finger at dietary emulsifiers such as carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80. See (Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome.)
Emulsifiers are used to blend ingredients that otherwise would not stay together. You’ll find emulsifiers in many processed foods such as ice cream, bread, chocolate sauce and veggie burgers. They’re in toothpaste as well, not to mention some medications. There are a variety of emulsifiers and they’re not always easy to spot on the list of ingredients. There are natural emulsifiers such as egg yolks, mustard and honey, but the research focuses on synthetic ones. Presumably the natural ones are ok…
The article’s behind a firewall, but here’s how Scientific American characterized the results:
In the study, mice were fed doses of common emulsifiers in their water and mouse chow. The substances appeared to make it easier for gut bacteria to chew through the layers of mucus that typically line the intestine. The result was the triggering of chronic colitis in mice with impaired immune systems that predispose them to the condition.
And even in mice with normal immune systems, emulsifier consumption appeared to trigger mild intestinal inflammation. These mice then tended to overeat and become obese and insulin resistant. The study is in the journal Nature.
I asked some friends about the research, including scientists and physicians –some with inflammatory bowel disease and some without. They all thought the findings were plausible, and for some it was consistent with their own suspicions about what triggers flare-ups. Emulsifiers are unlikely to be the only bad guy out there, but then again they could be pretty significant.
I’m not one to rearrange my lifestyle based on every new mouse study, but I feel like this one could be different. The authors are planning follow-up studies with other emulsifiers and in humans, but if I were a food company I’d think seriously about finding ways to eliminate synthetic emulsifiers and to label products accordingly.
I for one, would pay a premium for food (or toothpaste) that was free of synthetic emulsifiers. If the research holds up this won’t be a fad.
—March 10, 2015