Emulsifiers are dangerous food additives

January 6, 2016 (Updated: December 30, 2016)
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

As if you needed more reasons to avoid processed foods, another study has come out showing yet another way they damage your health. In particular, two types of emulsifiers—chemicals that are used to improve the consistency of processed foods—have now been linked to inflammation, and a number of inflammatory diseases. Of course, the damage is likely far worse than reported at this point, since inflammation is a problem that’s been linked to everything from cancer and Alzheimer’s to diabetes and arthritis. Luckily, in this case, avoiding the issue is simple, easy, and better for you in every way.

The Long, Unhealthy History Of Additives

Ever since we industrialized food production, we’ve been adding chemicals to our food.

Sometimes, it’s to improve taste or texture. Sometimes, it’s to preserve food for long transit times and to keep it from spoiling while sitting on grocery shelves.

And sometimes it’s just to make food look more attractive.

Indeed, food dyes—while often called harmless—have been shown to increase hyperactivity, aggravate asthma, and in certain cases cause cancer.

If you wonder why ADHD has been on the rise throughout the western world, the answer might just be the pleasing palette of colors in your cereal, amongst other things.

Prepared foods are overloaded with added sweeteners—natural and artificial—that are contributing to America’s problems with diabetes and obesity.

The preservatives that keep food fresh have also been linked to cancer. Some of the worst are nitrates and nitrites, like you’d find in cured meats. These appear to cause gastric cancers, along with damaging your heart.

The list of damage caused by all the dangerous food additives in prepared foods is long. But it just got a bit longer.

The Newest Danger

A recent study found that rats fed two emulsifiers—cellulose gum, and polysorbate 80—developed bowel syndromes like colitis. Some had pre-existing conditions worsen. The rats gained weight, had their metabolisms change, and developed widespread inflammation.

Part of the cause was what these emulsifiers did to gut microbiomes. They depressed anti-inflammatory bacteria and promoted bacteria that increased inflammation.

Bear in mind, these two emulsifiers are in a whole host of products. They keep salad dressings creamy and prevent ice cream from getting soupy too quickly. They bulk up foods and keep sauces smooth. And they’re considered safe by the FDA—though that may soon change.

Because, after all, inflammation is one of the worst things to put your body through.

Inflammation Is Linked To Everything

To be sure, inflammation in small doses can be beneficial. For instance, inflammation delivers large numbers of white blood cells to the site of a wound.

But when inflammation is chronic—like when we eat inflammatory additives—your body’s stressed cells start to break down, leading to the host of diseases I mentioned earlier.

Simply put, you don’t want to encourage chronic inflammation in any way. But, since these emulsifiers are in nearly every prepared food, their bad side effects can be difficult to avoid.

But there is a way.

Avoid The Box

The best thing you can do for your health is to avoid prepared foods as much as possible.

That means eating lots of whole foods—produce that is recognizable. A stalk of broccoli that looks like broccoli is safe. A cracker that claims to be made out of broccoli—even though it may claim veggie-like health benefits—isn’t.

I usually give my patients an easy, foolproof method to avoid processed foods. If it comes in a box, avoid it.

You should avoid most things that come in bags, too. Anything pre-packaged, pre-made, or instant is going to contain all sorts of harmful additives.

And don’t give a pass to restaurants, either. If you’re at a nice farm-to-table restaurant, you’re probably safe. If you’re in a chain that serves the same thing across the country, you’re probably eating pre-packaged food that’s simply given the last few finishing touches in the kitchen.

Undo The Damage

Even if you’re careful with what you eat, and stick to whole foods in most circumstances, you aren’t totally in the clear.

That’s because these emulsifiers are so ubiquitous, you’re probably getting them anyway. For instance, many medications use cellulose gum to create gel caps, or hold pills together until they’re ready to break down in your stomach.

That’s why it’s important you take an anti-inflammatory supplement as well. The best one out there, by far, is curcumin.

Curcumin is naturally found in turmeric, but it’s hard for your body to absorb in other forms. So make sure you find a curcumin supplement that’s got a high bio-availability rating.

It’s scary that such dangerous additives are in so much of our food. But if you stick with whole foods as much as you can, and you take a supplement like curcumin every day, you can avoid all the negative side effects.

It doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, once you avoid prepared foods for a bit, you’ll quickly discover how much better everything tastes, and how much better you feel.

References

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