A Common Food Additive That’s in Almost Everything is Making Us Fat

A new study has found that emulsifiers, which are commonly used in packaged food products, are linked to obesity

It helps make our mayo fluffy, our dressings creamy, and our ice cream smooth, but is it harming our health?

Look at the back of any packaged food you bought a grocery store. Chances are, your cookies, ice cream, yogurt, and salad dressings all have something in common on their nutrition facts: long chemical names that you can’t even pronounce, let alone understand. These chemical names are usually preservatives or emulsifiers. Emulsifiers, which keep ingredients that usually don’t mix evenly integrated (like oil and solids in mayo), are in nearly every shopping cart, but they could also be contributing to the obesity epidemic in America.

A new study by Georgia State University researchers, published in Nature, examined two common emulsifiers, Polysorbate-80 and carboxymethylcellulose, says that although these additives have been “generally categorized as safe” by the FDA, this only means that they’ve been regarded as non-carcinogenic. In the study, both additives, when consumed by lab rats, interfered with intestinal microbes and were linked to metabolic syndrome (symptoms include weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure).


After consumption, the friendly (and important) gut bacteria moved behind the mucus wall, where it isn’t supposed to be. In plain English, the consumption of large quantities of processed food with emulsifiers contributes to an inability to feel full, which leads to overeating and, eventually, obesity.