Beware of unwanted emulsifiers in processed food 

When you hear the phrase “Those two go together like oil and water,” you know they don’t get along. But what if you had to make them compatible? To do that for oil and water, what’s needed is an emulsifier, a binding agent that keeps everything well-mixed. Today, the list of foods that contain fat-stabilizing, shelf-life-extending, texture-enhancing emulsifiers could fill a big box store (oh, wait, they do!).

From cooking sprays and butter substitutes to soft-serve and hard ice creams, bottled sauces, candy bars and baked goods, emulsifiers keep unlikely pairings together for fun and profit. But it turns out, when manufacturers mess with your food by adding emulsifiers, your metabolism, endocrine system and digestive tract become a mess.

A new study in the journal Nature found two commonly used emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate 80, seem to change the balance of gut bacteria and damage the mucus lining of the intestines in lab animals. For some, emulsifiers caused pro-inflammatory bacteria to move from the gut into the body — bad news for the immune system. For others, they produced intestinal inflammation, leading to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. And, the researchers say, “the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to ... [peoples’ development of] obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.” This is one more reason to avoid products containing the Five Food Felons (all added sugars and syrups, any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole, all trans fats and most saturated fats) and to skip prepared and processed foods.


Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a superstar on “Iron Chef America,” once said: “Japanese chefs believe our soul goes into our knives once we start using them. You wouldn’t put your soul in a dishwasher!”

He’s right that modern utility isn’t very soulful, but for a newly discovered and surprising reason. A Swedish study found that kids who grow up in households using dishwashers are more likely to develop allergies, eczema and asthma than kids in households where dishes are hand-washed.

The researchers followed more than 1,000 7- and 8-year-olds. They found that 38 percent of kids whose parents had dishwashers reported eczema, while only 23 percent of hand-washers did. And in dishwasher families, 7.3 percent of the kids developed asthma, while only 1.7 percent of kids in hand-washing families did.

It could be another vote for the hygiene hypothesis, which says our lack of exposure to microbes makes us susceptible to autoimmune disease and allergies.

But we’re not saying you should give up your dishwasher; just don’t get oversanitized. Lose the antibacterial soaps and household cleaners; they trigger antibiotic resistance, and their chemicals often include hormone disruptors. Trust your immune system. Soap, water and elbow grease to do a fine job.


When Mark Drew painted Peanuts comic-strip characters mouthing rap lyrics by Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G. and others, some folks thought it made the Peanuts too menacing. (Picture Lucy saying, “My posse is always ready, and they’re waiting in my zone.”)

Now there’s a plan for how to make real peanuts less menacing: A new study found that the best way to prevent potentially life-threatening peanut allergy is to let infants and young kids under age 5 have a little bit of the pure legume and its proteins (the allergic part) as part of their regular diet.

The researchers followed two groups of infants at high risk for developing peanut allergy. The 4- to 11-month-old children who were fed peanuts had an 81 percent reduction in the incidence of peanut allergy (13.7 percent of kids in the “no-peanuts-for-you” group developed the allergy; only 1.9 percent of the kids who ate peanuts did).

Researchers excluded kids who might already be allergic to peanuts, and you should do the same.
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