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Diet and your gut microbiome

In industrialized countries like the United States, our diet has changed over the years.  All you have to do is go to the grocery store and see that the fresh foods are on the outside aisles and the center of the store is filled with food products – products you did not even know you wanted! Frozen foods, ready-to-eat foods, drinks of all colors of the rainbow, desserts that could stay on the shelf for a very long time, which seem convenient and cheap.  But watch out!  Some of these food products can have artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers added to them.


Research has suggested that emulsifiers and non-caloric sweeteners affect the microbiota in the large intestine.  Emulsifiers like polysorbate-80 and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) can be used to increase shelf-life, improve mouth feel, or thicken foods.  However, initial animal studies show that eating these in a similar amount to a human diet could cause a decrease in butyrate, a fatty acid that protects the colon.  A decrease in butyrate can increase the risk of colon inflammation.  Artificial, non-caloric sweeteners such as saccharin and sucralose have also shown a negative impact to gut microbiota in animal studies.  However, more research needs to be done to know exactly how these translate to humans.

Avoiding Processed Foods

What should you do?  Read the list of ingredients looking for polysorbate-80, carboxymethylcellulose, saccharin, and/or sucralose.  Find another product that does not have these ingredients or limit the number of servings you have of these per day.  You might find these ingredients here:

  • Cottage cheese

  • Pickles

  • Fat-soluble vitamins

  • Shortenings and oils

  • Gelatin desserts and dessert mixes

  • Frozen desserts: ice cream, frozen custard, ice milk, fruit sherbet

  • Barbecue sauces

  • Soft drinks - regular and diet

  • White and sparkling wines

  • Tortillas

  • Ready-to-eat cereals

Processed foods

Additives for foods are considered safe according to food industry studies but we still are learning what the impact these foods could be for the long-term. Choosing whole foods – buying and cooking foods close to their original state is what is recommended to maximize your health.

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