A recent study published in Nature raising concerns about the impact of emulsifiers on obesity and metabolic disorders lacks real world application and needs to be viewed in the proper context. In addition, the findings do not provide sufficient evidence to show a causal relationship between emulsifiers and metabolic disorders.
In this study, mice consumed emulsifiers in amounts much higher than is typically consumed in a balanced diet. The strongest effects were found at levels that would only be attained if a person were to consume an all-ice-cream diet. Such findings are inapplicable to people consuming a balanced diet. In addition, findings suggesting exacerbated inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) from emulsifier consumption were among mice bred to be susceptible to such disorders, which may have contributed to the results.
According to Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD, senior director of health and wellness at the International Food Information Council, “Gut microbial patterns are a product of many different influences, only one being diet. In addition, the study was done with mice, and the results may not apply to humans. The results of the study do not warrant avoidance of any products or ingredients at this time.”
The authors acknowledge that there are other contributing factors to obesity and metabolic syndrome and that more research is needed.
Food ingredients such as emulsifiers have been safely consumed in foods and beverages for decades. Of the emulsifiers studied, carboxymethyl cellulose is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and polysorbate 80 is an approved food additive in the U.S. Emulsifiers perform many functions in our foods, including providing desirable texture and preventing ingredients in foods from separating. These benefits ensure foods and beverages continue to meet consumer expectations for good-tasting, appealing foods and beverages.
For more information about common food ingredients such as emulsifiers and their functions in food, visit the IFIC Foundation resources:
- What’s in Our Food: Understanding Common Food Ingredients
- Food Ingredients & Colors (FDA & IFIC Foundation)