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Emulsifier Chemicals Are Everywhere in Foods. Could They Raise Diabetes Risk?
  • Posted April 25, 2024

Emulsifier Chemicals Are Everywhere in Foods. Could They Raise Diabetes Risk?

Emulsifiers -- substances that are essential ingredients in processed foods -- appear to increase people's risk of type 2 diabetes, a new study finds.

In fact, the more emulsifiers that people eat as part of their food, the higher their risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers reported April 23 in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

These results, if confirmed by follow-up studies, should add to "the debate on re-evaluating the regulations around the use of additives in the food industry, in order to better protect consumers,"lead author Mathilde Touvier, research director with the French Institute of Health and Medical Research.

Emulsifiers are additives that help bind two substances that typically separate when they're combined, like oil and water, according to the European Food Information Council.

These commonly used food additives are often added to processed and packaged foods to improve their appearance, taste and texture, and to lengthen their shelf life, researchers said.

Cakes, cookies, desserts, yogurts, ice cream, chocolate, breads, margarine and ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals all typically contain emulsifiers, researchers noted.

The safety of emulsifiers has been evaluated by food safety and health agencies, as with all food additives, the researchers said.

However, recent studies suggest that emulsifiers might disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut, increasing the risk of inflammation, insulin resistance and diabetes, researchers said.

To evaluate this potential risk, researchers analyzed data from more than 104,000 people taking part in an ongoing French nutrition study between 2009 and 2023.

The team estimated each person's intake of emulsifier-laced foods, based on dietary records filed every six months for an average 14 years.

During an average follow-up of seven years, researchers found that certain emulsifiers were associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • Carrageenans (3% increased risk per increment of 100 milligrams (mg) per day).

  • Tripotassium phosphate (15% increased risk per increment of 500 mg per day).

  • Mono- and diacetyltartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (4% increased risk per increment of 100 mg per day).

  • Sodium citrate (4% increased risk per increment of 500 mg per day).

  • Guar gum (11% increased risk per increment of 500 mg per day).

  • Gum arabic (3% increased risk per increment of 1000 mg per day).

  • Xanthan gum (8% increased risk per increment of 500 mg per day).

However, researchers said in an institute news release that more studies are needed to understand the potential link between emulsifiers and type 2 diabetes.

The team plans to examine how emulsifiers might affect gut microbes, and to look at the potential "cocktail effects"of food additive mixtures.

More information

The European Food Information Council has more on emulsifiers.

SOURCE: French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, news release, April 23, 2024

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