Here's another reason to back away from food born and raised in factories: Emulsifiers, the ingredients added to processed foods like ice cream and peanut butter to improve texture and extend their shelf life, dramatically increase gut inflammation, which then ups your risk for developing chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or metabolic syndrome, according to research from Georgia State University.
In the study, researchers used lab equipment that simulates the human gut; it's made of a series of pumps and containers, and bacteria comparable to our own. The scientists added two emulsifiers called carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 (P80) to the "normal gut" contents.
Now, as we mentioned, certain additives interfere with your gut bacteria so it inflames the intestines and potentially promotes disease. And these two emulsifiers did just that; they led to a dramatic increase in a marker of gut inflammation, the researchers say.
Next, researchers took the altered combination of gut bacteria out of the lab equipment and implanted it into mice that didn't have any gut bacteria of their own. In an unfortunate (but not unexpected) turn of events, the mice also developed intestinal inflammation and showed signs of metabolic syndrome, including obesity, high blood sugar, and insulin resistance.
Now, it's important to repeat this research was done in mice. So, while the study shows emulsifiers directly affect gut bacteria, they need to test whether emulsifiers have the same effect in people. That study is already in the works.
Researchers will likely put participants on an emulsifier-free diet for a month, then switch some back to a diet that includes processed foods again. The team will then examine whether the two groups exhibit differences in gut inflammation and changes to their bacteria.
Not sure how to spot emulsifiers and additives on ingredient labels? It's tricky; they go by different names. The best way to avoid them, the researchers say, is to avoid processed food.