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Product Development

Food & Beverage Emulsifiers Associated with Risk of Diabetes

While this study raises some interesting concerns related to emulsifiers, it is important to remember that it does not prove that these additives cause negative health outcomes.

By Julie Holt, Director, Global Advisory Services

A new study has found a possible link between emulsifiers such as lecithins, gums and starches and the increased risk of diabetes. Emulsifiers are used in a wide variety of food products such as ice cream, yogurt, cookies, dressings and condiments, as well as some flavored beverages to create a homogenous mixture. These additives help combine substances which would ordinarily separate when mixed together and can also add stability to some products. For example, maltodextrin helps slow the melting of ice cream.

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Study examines correlation between emulsifiers and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The recent study in France and published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, a global medical journal, indicates that consumption of certain emulsifiers may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study included about 100,000 participants and controlled for some risk factors such as obesity, family history, age and nutrition. The specific emulsifiers identified as being of particular concern include gum arabic, sodium citrate, xanthan gum and carrageenans.

As with all food additives, emulsifiers are evaluated for safety before introduction into food and beverage formulations. However, evaluations are based on scientific evidence available at the time and may later be challenged based on new information and updated understanding. The latest research evaluated self-reported dietary intake on some emulsifiers and found a correlation between emulsifiers and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Research shows association but does not prove causation.

The researchers state that disruption of gut microbiota and contribution to a leaky gut may play a role, although the study design cannot show causality. It has long been established that gut microbiota has a role in immune response and overall health. These additives may also increase gut inflammation, possibly leading to insulin resistance and development of type 2 diabetes. This linkage may be similar to concerns around some sweeteners that could also disrupt gut microbiota.

While this study raises some interesting concerns related to emulsifiers, it is important to remember that it does not prove that these additives cause negative health outcomes. More lab studies are needed to correlate linkages between emulsifier consumption and health outcomes.

About the Author

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Julie Holt is a subject matter expert in the areas of food and beverage, additives and regulatory strategy. Ms. Holt’s expertise includes the beverage industry, with current consulting support across multiple beverage categories.

Holt has more than 25+ years of regulatory experience in the food and food ingredients industries and managed her own advisory firm, Scientific & Regulatory Solutions LLC, prior to joining FoodChain ID. As a consultant, she supported several food and beverage clients including a Fortune 50 company. Holt has provided global regulatory knowledge covering more than 200 countries. Her consulting efforts have supported global regulatory needs, R&D projects, sustainability goals and innovation initiatives.

Source: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(24)00086-X

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