Mayonnaise. Ice cream. Bread. Processed meat.
What do all of these foods have in common? They all use emulsifiers, a commonly used preservative that helps improve the shelf life of food and prevent oil or fat in products from separating from water-based ingredients.
But a new study from researchers at Georgia State University has found that routine consumption of emulsifiers is linked to colon cancer in mice.
To conduct the study, researchers divided the mice into three groups: two received emulsifiers, (either sodium carboxymethycellulose or polysorbate 80) and the third group received water.
The mice that consumed the two different emulsifiers experienced "changes in intestinal bacteria that promoted inflammation and colon cancer,” according to the report published in the medical journal "Cancer Research."
Current U.S. Department of Agriculture food regulations stipulate that a single emulsifier can only comprise 1 to 2 percent of a product-- but there is no limit the number of different emulsifiers that can be used in a single product.
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Some highly processed foods contain many different types of emulsifiers, used to create a desired texture and mouthfeel of the product.
“I would tell people to try to cook instead of using food industry products,” researcher Emilie Viennois said in a press release. “In meals, mix processed foods with some homemade food so you don’t have huge exposure to emulsifiers in one meal.”