If you have been following the Undoctored and Wheat Belly concepts, you are cultivating healthy bowel flora, efforts that include “seeding” your intestines with a high-potency, multi-species probiotic and fermented foods, and nourishing bowel flora with prebiotic fibers. But there are other issues to consider. Today, I discuss the emerging wisdom on emulsifying agents and why we should avoid them to regain healthy bowel flora and overall health.
The capacity for a compound to emulsify a solution varies from minimal to dramatic. Even some natural compounds in whole, unprocessed foods can exert modest emulsifying effects, such as acacia (acacia seeds), pectin (apples, peaches), and lecithin (egg yolks), and mustard. The most powerful emulsification effects occur with synthetic or semi-synthetic emulsifying agents, such as polysorbate-80, carboxymethylcellulose, and methylcellulose, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and carrageenan. In one study, polysorbate-80 increased intestinal permeability 59-fold.
The human intestinal tract is covered by a protective mucous layer made of mucopolysaccharides that keeps undesirable organisms and other factors away from the intestinal lining itself. The mucous barrier is continually being regenerated, but is susceptible to emulsification, like adding soap or detergent to oil, resulting in its breakup. Emerging data suggest that synthetic emulsifiers, polysorbate-80 and methylcellulose, disrupt the mucous lining, allowing microorganisms to penetrate and exert changes via bowel flora that increase blood insulin, blood sugar, contribute to pre-diabetes, and increase inflammation, in addition to altering the composition of bowel flora present. This is believed to be an important part of the process operating in ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, for example, as well as diabetes and weight gain. An unintended consequence of the low-fat message was an increase in foods that contained synthetic emulsifying agents, such as low-fat yogurts, adding further to the blunders of the low-fat era.
In the Undoctored and Wheat Belly lifestyle, we try to minimize our exposure to emulsifying agents. Total avoidance is, however, not practical, as mentioned above there are natural emulsifiers in otherwise healthy foods, such as eggs (lecithin) and mustard. Therefore, try to minimize your exposure to added or synthetic emulsifiers, such as carboxymethyl cellulose, polysorbate-80, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and carrageenan.
We opt for whole, single-ingredient foods as often as possible, thereby not containing synthetic emulsifiers. However, our reliance on almond, coconut, and some other processed non-dairy milks means we are being exposed to some of the natural, semi-synthetic, and even synthetic emulsifiers. We should therefore avoid brands containing synthetic emulsifiers. Alternatively, you can prepare almond or coconut milk yourself and avoid them altogether.
The Undoctored and Wheat Belly effort to cultivate bowel flora by including 20 grams of prebiotic fibers per day also increases mucopolysaccharide production (via short chain fatty acids), reducing the impact of emulsifiers.
Stay tuned for more on this emerging and exciting new insight, as I predict that better understanding of the intestinal mucous layer is going to yield even greater capacity to heal intestinal tracts damaged by wheat/grains, antibiotics, chemical exposures, and prescription drugs.