The Food Additive That May Be Causing Obesity


Today, more and more, we are finding out about the microbiome of our gut. The trillions of little bacteria that live peacefully within us are altered by what we eat. The things we eat are called prebiotics (as opposed to deliberately ingesting bacteria – probiotics).  Our every day diet controls what bacteria will thrive in our guts. The question is what kind of bacteria thrives in you?

Some of the bacteria in our guts do us a great service, like those that consume fiber, secrete a substance that protects our gut from colon cancer.  The reason fiber is so good for us, besides keeping us regular, is that it feeds a ‘good’ kind of bacteria.

Not just any apple- but the Granny Smith Apples

For instance, those who eat Granny Smith apples, not Golden Delicious, not Red Delicious, have bacteria that are found in skinny people. Why? because the Granny Smith apple has the highest non-digestible dietary fiber and a compound called polyphenols that feed the type of bacteria that are found in thin folk.

But for every bacteria found in thin people, there are bacteria found in people who are obese, and it turns out that the emulsifying agents found in ice cream, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and a host of other products, are food for those pesky bacteria.

The Ice Cream Doesn’t Melt

Those same bacteria agents made the news last summer when a Cincinnati parent discovered their Blue Bunny Ice Cream didn’t melt.  Ice cream typically melts, but those agents keep it together, and when you leave this kind of ice cream out for hours in the hot summer sun, it just doesn’t melt.

The letter to the journal Nature Used Polysorbate 80 a common emulsifier found in ice cream and other products may disrupt the gut bacteria and cause some gut inflammation

It was also pointed out that the Wal-Mart ice cream came from a store where its shoppers are over 2 per cent higher in weight than shoppers in other stores. Correlation perhaps, but maybe those ingredients are a cause.

Other Gut Problems

Those same emulsifiers (found in ice cream, salad dressing, mayo, baked goods, non-dairy milk, veggie burgers, and even hamburger) also cause inflammation of the gut of mice, similar to inflammatory bowel disease in humans.  But these are mice, and not men.

The Foods We Eat

Emulsifying agents are found in most processed foods. They are needed both for maintaining the look and shelf life of food. They have never been fully tested by the Food and Drug Administration, because the agency, when formed, was overwhelmed with food sources, and classified them as “GRAS” or generally recognized as safe.

What does this study mean? It may mean nothing. It may be unique to the mice and not to humans. It also means we need more study of the food additives commonly used.

For those who wish to be cautious:

Read food labels.

Even in Heavy Whipping Cream – and most dairy products, emulsifiers, like the one described in the study, are found.

Eat more fruit and vegetables.

Make your own ice cream.

And maybe an apple a day will keep me away.



Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14232.  Benoit Chassaing, Omry Koren, Julia K. Goodrich, Angela C. Poole, Shanthi Srinivasan, Ruth E. Ley & Andrew T. Gewirtz

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

Share this article on social media!

Leave a Reply