This article is making its way around the Twittersphere right now. It’s about how emulsifiers and gums that are routinely added to manufactured foods are messing with our digestion and making us fat and sick. You can go read it if you want, but I think it’s just a bunch of over-hyped ridiculousness.
First off, the study referenced was done in mice. You are not a mouse, if you have the brain power to read this sentence. Second, these additives have been in the food supply for quite some time. Xanthan gum, the most pervasive one (particularly in gluten-free products where it imitates the stickiness of gluten) has been in the food supply since 1968. Wait, I feel a Food Babe moment coming on: it is also used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud. My God, what are you thinking, feeding that stuff to your kids in their gluten-free cookies!? #sarcasm Carrageenan is another common gum. It’s been in use since the 1400’s and it was originally derived from red edible seaweeds. I’m not arguing for food that contains all this stuff. You shouldn’t be basing your diet on a whole lot of manufactured food because it’s nutritionally neutered. You get your salt, your sugar, your fat, (Michael Moss has written extensively on this) a whole bunch of stuff that nominally counts as food (it is edible, after all) without anything that nourishes. Does anyone really think that calories thickened with gums, flavored with minute amounts of chemicals, and then enriched with minute amounts of vitamins (maybe) is better for you than oatmeal? Broccoli? Salmon? Apples?
But, what really annoys me is the title: How Emulsifiers Are Messing with Our Guts (and Making Us Fat.) No, no, no! Some researchers suspect there is a link because they have seen things in mice (I repeat, you are not a mouse). It is a huge logical leap to say they ARE messing with our guts and they ARE making us fat.
Why are more of us fat? Because we eat more calories. I’m not sure why this is so contentious but it is. Here’s an article to support my statement, but let’s approach this anecdotally, in a way most of us understand: by examining lunch. Once upon a time, like back in the 1970’s, a McDonalds meal looked like a single burger, maybe with a slice of cheese, a tiny-by-today’s-standards order of fries, and a 12 oz. coke . Now? A double cheeseburger (for a whole dollar), a larger order of fries and at least a 20 oz. coke. A 12 oz. coke is now the extra small size. Hey, lets pick something “healthy” instead. (I hate the whole healthy descriptor, by the way. It gives some crappy food a pass just because it contains (or does not contain) the nutrient/additive du jour. It allows people to turn up their noses at things that have that label, even if those things actually taste good. It’s such a loaded term I am loathe to use it at all. But I digress…) There was recently a piece in the New York Times about Chipotle and the grandiose calorie counts on many of their menu items. Now, I like Chipotle. The founder, Steve Ells, is a graduate of Boulder High, same as my daughter. He gave the commencement address the year she graduated. He’s a very smart guy and they treat their employees well. I like the food for the most part. But, the calorie counts are epic. Many of their most ordered burritos come in at 900-1000 calories. That’s way more than that puny little 1970’s McDonalds meal and a lot more than most of us need in a single meal. When I was a kid way back in the 1970’s, we didn’t eat out anywhere on a regular basis either. The first McDonalds opened in my hometown in about 1977, when I was in high school. So, things have changed and it’s not just the use of emulsifiers.
Maybe the research will pan out. Maybe routine ingestion of emulsifiers is bad for you. You know what? Large doses of manufactured food are bad for you for a whole host of reasons. You don’t need to know about that future research because we already know the stuff is crap and we are eating way too much of it.
Photo Attribution: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons