Emulsifiers and Gut Health
by Rachel Boutagy
Additives are pervasive in the manufacture and processing of food products. Food additives are primarily used to add colour, flavour and extend product life. Another commonly used food additive class are emulsifiers, which are detergent-like substances that are added to foods to increase shelf life, decrease clumping, agglomeration and separation, and improve texture and consistency. Many protein powers use emulsifiers to allow for instantaneously smooth consistency when they are added to liquids, along with impressively adding to a prolonged shelf life.
Despite the joys an emulsifier-induced creamy smooth protein drink gives us, dietary emulsifiers have recently come under the spot light after several studies, first in animal experiments and later in human models, have raised questions over the potential negative effect on our health.
Two of the most commonly used emulsifiers have recently been shown to drastically alter gut microbial population and gut lining function and subsequently increase the risk of obesity, irritable bowl syndrome and colitis in mice, despite the emulsifiers being present in small amounts. These results in animals have recently been confirmed in human model experiments as well. Taken as a whole, it appears that dietary emulsifiers have the potential to alter the delicate ecology of the gut flora and gut barrier function which might then initiate gut inflammation and trigger the onset of irritable bowel syndrome, increase body weight and a promote a cluster of metabolic derangements, collectively known as the metabolic syndrome.
It has been recently shown that there are at least 88 natural and synthetic emulsifiers that directly target the microbiota and cause inflammation of our gastrointestinal tract. It is due to this growing body of evidence that dietary emulsifiers can profoundly and directly cause numerous inflammatory conditions, impair metabolic pathways and promote weight gain.
For these reasons, we felt strongly about not adding emulsifiers to our protein powders. We are aware that this will result in a product that may clump when not mixed properly and that may not have the smooth consistency of other powers, but we feel that is a better option than developing irritable bowl syndrome!