It’s still early research, to be sure—human studies are planned—and there’s no way to know yet how important a role these ingredients actually play in these common diseases.
It’s not known whether other emulsifiers have similar negative effects. However, carrageenan, a gum that is also commonly used as an emulsifier, has been linked in other animal studies to gut inflammation.
Avoidable Ingredients in Dish Detergent.pdf (PDF — 386 KB)
But the research is enough to make us read labels pretty carefully—at least for a start. For instance, these two additives, which are labeled as safe for food by the FDA, go by a variety of names…
- Carboxymethylcellulose is also known as cellulose gum, carboxymethyl cellulose, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, CMC, modified cellulose and cellulose gel.
- Polysorbate 80 is also known as polyoxythylene sorbitan mono-oleate and Tween 80.
However, even careful label reading can only take you so far, since possible gut-harming emulsifiers lurk in many processed foods. The easiest way to play it safe? Choose minimally processed foods that contain only ingredients you recognize. You can find ice cream that contains just cream, milk and sugar, for example. And when it comes to peanut butter, whether smooth or crunchy, look for those that contain just peanuts, or peanuts and salt.