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Emulsifiers and Stabilizers in Food

What is an emulsifier in food? A substance that stabilizes an emulsion, in particular a food additive used to stabilize processed foods.

Emulsifiers and stabilizers are molecules that have two distinct ends. One end likes to be in water (hydrophilic) and the other end likes to be in oil (lipophilic). This means that they will coat the surface of oil droplets in an oil-in-water emulsion and effectively ‘insulate’ the oil droplets from the water.

An emulsifier is a molecule in which one end likes to be in an oily environment and the other in a water environment.

Emulsifiers are found in foods including mayonnaise, margarine, ice cream, creamy sauces, coconut milk. nondairy milks and many more foods.

Here are some common emulsifiers and stabilizers in food: (Natural and commercially made)

Lecithins which are mixtures of phospholipids such as phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidylethanolamine, and are usually extracted from sources such as egg yolk and soybeans. Uses include salad dressings, baked goods and chocolate.

Esters of monoglycerides of fatty acid which are made from natural fatty acids, glycerol and an organic acid such as acetic, citric, lactic or tartaric. The fatty acids are usually from a vegetable source, though animal fats can be used. Products that use them include ice cream, cakes and crisps.

Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids are semi-synthetic emulsifiers made from glycerol and natural fatty acids, which can be from either plant or animal sources. They are used in products like breads, cakes and margarines.

Some of the more common emulsifiers are: Carrageenans, guar gum, agar, albumin, Irish moss, glycerol, calcium chloride, polysorbate 80

Emulsifiers implicated in metabolic syndrome and colitis

Even though emulsifiers are approved by the FDA, however, a research article published in the journal “Nature” suggested that emulsifiers could be implicated in altering gut microbia. Researchers fed mice emulsifiers through water or food. The experiment used polysorbate 80 (common in ice cream) and carboxymethylcellulose, and found that it altered microbiota in a way that caused chronic inflammation. They tested the emulsifiers at levels below those approved for use in food and also at levels modeled to mirror “what a person would eat, if they eat a lot of processed food.”

The emulsifiers appear to disturb both the bacteria normally present in the gut and the gut’s protective mucus layer. Something in the chemistry of the emulsifiers seems to change the microbiota and how these bacteria interact with the intestine itself. It was proven that these emulsifiers caused chronic inflammation which resulted in metabolic syndrome and colitis in the mice.

What to do about this?

Read labels carefully, avoid foods that have additives in them.

Emulsifiers are designed to make foods more creamy therefore more “palatable” Learn to enjoy foods without these additives in them.

Make your own nondairy milks and ice creams. Use either coconut milk made at home or coconut milk without these additives. Here is a recipe for making your own coconut milk: 4 cups hot water. Add to 1.5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut to blender. Blend on high for one minute. Strain through cheesecloth or nut milk bag. Add 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Mix well. Store in refrigerator. You will need to shake it up (the emulsifiers keep it from separating, so since we are not using those the milk will separate) before use.


This article is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose or treat illness. Consult your care provider for all your healthcare needs

This article originally appeared on Health Begins at Home. Click Here to view the original Health Begins Post. 

Pedagogy author, Brooke Lounsbury, has written two classes that are great resources for digestive health and probiotics. Click on the course links below to view the full course descriptions. 

Probiotics - 1.5 contact hours

Probiotics have been receiving a lot of attention recently.  Probiotics (pro- meaning “good” and biotic- meaning “living”) were discovered by Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Metchnikoff of the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

In 1907, working in Bulgaria, Metchnikoff was intrigued as to why certain inhabitants of the Bulgarian population lived much longer than others. Discovering that villagers living in the Caucasus Mountains were drinking a fermented yogurt drink on a daily basis, his studies found that a probiotic called Lactobacillus bulgaricus improved their health and may have helped the longevity of their lives. His research prompted him and others to look further into probiotics, leading scientists to discover many types of probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Bifidobacterium infantis; all of which have various properties and can have different effects on the body. From treatment of diarrhea to candida overgrowth to irritable bowel and Crohns disease to research on how probiotics are intimately connected with mental health and cancer, probiotics are finally in the limelight. As more and more has been discovered about probiotics and their amazing health benefits, this microbe is a powerhouse of health giving properties.

A Holistic Approach to Gut Health

There has been recent rediscovery into how important digestive health is to our overall health. It has been said that all health starts in the gut. This is very true on many levels. Our bodies cannot perform without the intricate dance of chemical, hormonal and physical interactions that take place every second within our digestive system. Recent discoveries have led to the emergence of mental health and the gut brain axis. There is a two way communication that takes place between our gut and brain. Even low grade inflammation can interrupt this delicate balance. Probiotics that travel along the vagus nerve have been recently discovered to contribute to mental health. Autoimmune diseases are exacerbated by poor gut health and low grade inflammation and gut dysbiosis. Stress profoundly effects our gut health and dramatically alters the chemical balance found within our gut. Even respiratory illness, rotavirus and some forms of cancer have benefited from the use of probiotics to bring our gastrointestinal system into balance. This course is designed to educate on the anatomy, physiology and of the digestive system, along with explanations of probiotics, enzymes and their use, a short description of leaky gut and the 5 Rs of the functional medicine model to restore gut health.
Posted: 1/3/2017 4:50:45 PM
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