There’s a reason I’m always encouraging you to try to do as much of your shopping in the outside aisles at the grocery store as you can.
Foods found in the produce, meat and dairy sections are typically closer to how nature intended. But the moment you leave them behind, you’re far more likely to fill up your shopping cart with highly processed foods.
Recently we’ve had a frightening reminder of just how dangerous those highly-processed foods can be to our health. Researchers from Georgia State University announced that common food additives called emulsifiers could promote colon cancer.
Food manufacturers add emulsifiers to processed foods to help with texture—aiding the mixing of foods that normally would separate for example—and to extend the shelf life of foods. But it turns out they’re doing a whole lot more than that.
These common food additives can alter the bacteria in your gut leading to intestinal inflammation, and possibly obesity and metabolic syndrome.1 And now, frighteningly, research has linked emulsifiers to colon cancer in mice.2
This was an animal study, so we need more research to pinpoint just how risky these additives are, of course. But we recommend you don’t wait until those new studies are complete to start reducing the number of emulsifiers you’re getting in your diet. Because by then it could be too late.
Cut back on colon cancer linked emulsifiers TODAY
Following are three common food emulsifiers, which could increase your risk of colon cancer.
1. Polysorbate 80:
Are you a fan of ice cream or other creamy desserts such as pudding? Or do you occasionally drink wine, take medications or even use some supplements? If so, chances are you’ve swallowed a fair amount of Polysorbate 80 (P-80) in your lifetime.
Food manufacturers make P-80 with dehydrated sugar alcohol compounds and oleic fatty acid. They use it as an emulsifier to give foods a creamy texture, bulk foods up, keep sauces smooth and to reduce foaming that occurs when some foods, cosmetics or drugs are processed.
A 2015 animal study published in the journal Nature linked the emulsifier to inflammation, colitis, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) and obesity.1 Now a new study, published in the journal Cancer Research, has revealed that regularly eating this emulsifier could encourage the development of tumors.2
Researchers believe repeated exposure to P-80 can trigger low-grade inflammation that alters gut flora in a way that’s associated with metabolic disease and colon cancer.
When checking labels for Polysorbate 80 also keep your eye out for brand names of the emulsifier including Tween 80, Alkest TW 80, Scattics, Canarcel and Poegasorb 80.
Carboxymethylcellulose, also known as cellulose gum, is a food additive that’s made from wood pulp or cotton lint (yes, REALLY) and acetic acid. The emulsifier stabilizes or thickens foods. It’s used in a variety of common foods including ice cream, cheese, dressings, cottage cheese, cream cheese spreads, desserts, icing and candy.
Just like P-80, experts said Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) was perfectly safe until the 2015 study raised some alarm bells. The mouse study revealed the emulsifier could cause inflammation and alter gut bacteria triggering obesity and metabolic issues.1
Researchers added more fuel to the fire with a study published in Cancer Research. Once again, scientists linked CMC to inflammation and gut microbiota changes. And now they’ve added colon cancer to the list as well.2
The Georgia State University study did not include carrageenan. However, studies stretching back decades have linked carrageenan to inflammation, a variety of stomach problems and even cancer.
In 2001, an animal study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspective concluded that the additive was associated with intestinal ulceration and abnormal tissue growth.3
Longtime Healthier Talk readers may recall we’ve written about carrageenan before. Food manufacturers use the emulsifier in a variety of products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, processed chicken and turkey, canned soups, microwave dinners and frozen pizzas.
Food marked natural or even organic isn’t safe from this thickening ingredient either since it’s made from seaweed. In 2016, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted against continuing to allow the use of carrageenan in organic products. But in April of 2018, the USDA choose to ignore their advice, reauthorizing the emulsifier’s use in foods labeled organic.
If you eat any processed foods—and let’s face it, who doesn’t—eliminating emulsifiers from your diet is likely impossible. But you can reduce your exposure by shopping the outside aisles at the supermarket, and by eating more fresh foods.
For example, rather than eating turkey lunch meat buy a fresh turkey breast and make your own for the week. Or replace commercial salad dressings with your own homemade dressing. Make one with fresh squeezed lemon juice, vinegar, fresh spices and olive oil.
The jury is still out on just how dangerous emulsifiers are. But with a potential link to colon cancer, until we know more it makes sense to do what you can to reduce your exposure.
1.”Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome,” Nature, 519, 92–96 (05 March 2015)
2. “Common Food Additive Promotes Colon Cancer In Mice,” Georgia State University news release, accessed 7 November 2016
3. “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments, Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Oct; 109(10): 983–994
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