Common Food and Drink Ingredients May Be Obesity Provoking Culprits

Health Writer

You've been told that you need to be a dedicated food label detective, identifying ingredients that may be contributing to health concerns and specifically obesity. So you've looked on the label to decipher the ingredients, searching for trans fats, added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.

A new study suggests that you now need to concern yourself with a class of ingredients called emulsifiers. These compounds, routinely found in the foods and beverages you commonly consume, may be creating gut microbe havoc, leading to metabolic changes that can cause inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and even obesity.

What are emulsifiers? They are ingredients used in foods and beverages that keep oil and water mixtures or emulsifiers, stable. Clearly many processed food and drink or liquid offerings require this ingredient as a stabilizer.

The study used mice as subjects and tested exposure to two of the most common emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80. After the mice had sufficient exposure, the researchers looked at their microbiome, communities of gut microbes and their metabolism, to see if there were any changes or disruptions. The research team noted that even with low level emulsifier exposure, there were distinct changes in the gut microbes, and these changes then led to low grade inflammation and the onset of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors, is directly associated with risk of obesity.

If these findings are further confirmed by other studies, or a larger study, its implications are huge. For decades, researchers have been suggesting that obesity is a complex disease that may have a multitude of causes. It may mean that the very ingredients we are using in food and drinks, even those in the "diet" category, being consumed by the community-at-large, on a regular basis, may be directly contributing to an incidence of obesity and metabolic changes on a large scale basis.

Still, we need to keep in mind that excess fat, sodium, and especially excessive consumption of sugar are still the main drivers of excess weight. Even if this new emulsifier study proves to have merit, the amount of emulsifiers we consume and its impact on obesity, versus other obesity-risk drivers, is small in comparison. If you actually do the math, based on the emulsifier exposure in the study, we humans would have to consume an extraordinary amount of emulsifiers, nearly two hundred and fifty times the normal acceptable daily intake (ADI) in order to sustain a similar microbe disruption impact. So our vigilance and focus, if we are concerned about obesity risk, should focus on calories, sugar, transfat and saturated fat, and sodium levels in foods, when we assessing our dietary choices.

Still the observations from the experiment are important, since all ingredients in food clearly have the potential to affect health, especially when consumed in large amounts or on a regular basis. We should be concerned about any ingredients that have the potential to cause inflammation and metabolic changes. It's likely that research on emulsifiers and other ingredients will continue.

Source: Food Navigator