The microbiome is a very delicate and extremely complex system made up of 100 trillion bacteria. One of the easiest ways to throw your microbiome out of whack and disturb your gut health is by consuming processed foods that contain food additives.
In their natural state - foods contain gut-healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, and antioxidants, which give your body both the energy AND nutrients it needs to function properly. When it comes to food, the closer you get to the 'real thing' - the more nourished you'll be!
Food additives are found in many packaged foods and cause damage to the gut microbiome by throwing off the natural balance of good and bad bacteria - through starving or killing the good, and creating an environment where the bad can thrive. In excess, food additives can lead to gut imbalances, hormone dysfunction, inflammation, and wreak havoc on your blood sugar.
This is not to scare you away from eating processed foods altogether - but to encourage you to be mindful of how often you're consuming them!
Let's take a look at the top food additives most commonly found in processed foods and how you can avoid them next time you’re shopping for quick and healthy snacks for your on-the-go adventures.
Processed foods generally have lengthy shelf lives. How are they able to sit on a shelf for so long? Emulsifiers. The dietary additive is used to bind ingredients together and prolong the shelf life of foods.
Emulsifiers thin the mucus lining in the gut, which usually acts as a barrier between the gut bacteria and the intestinal wall and protects us from inflammation and infection. A thinner mucus layer makes the body more susceptible to ‘leakiness’, in which harmful substances travel through the gut lining and into the body.
Now, don't be fooled, not all emulsifiers are damaging to the gut, and it depends on the amount you’re eating. Here is a list of the different types of bad emulsifiers and how to find them on food labels:
CSL Calcium Stearoyl Di Laciate
PolyGlycerol Ester (PGE)
Sorbitan Ester (SOE)
PG Ester (PGME)
Sugar Ester (SE)
Acetylated Monoglyceride (AMG)
Lactylate Monoglyceride (LMG)
If you are making something at home and need an emulsifier - like dressing made with oil and vinegar - honey and mustard are natural emulsifiers and are not damaging to the mucus lining.
Many processed foods contain artificial sweeteners to sweeten a food without spiking blood sugar or adding calories. Commonly used artificial sweeteners are polyols (sugar alcohols), aspartame, and sucralose (found in some ‘natural’ stevias). You’ll find these in ‘low-carb’, ‘sugar-free’, and ‘diet’ foods. But the truth is, we don’t know for sure how artificial sweeteners affect the gut microbiome and metabolism. What we do know is that many of them cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating, can lead to increased carb cravings, and can disrupt the body's natural sense to regulate blood sugar.
Snack companies can be sneaky and often hide processed ingredients under names like "natural flavors". 'Natural' can make anyone believe a food is healthy. Don't fall for it. Natural flavors could, or could not be, natural at all! There is no regulation around what is considered ‘natural’, and many natural ingredients are merely extracted from hard-to-track natural sources, and then chemically altered before being added to your food. There's nothing natural about that. It’s alway best to identify individual ingredients instead of a blend of ‘natural’ ingredients that contain who-knows-what.
It's common knowledge that your favorite sour candies is filled with food dyes, but did you know they can also be found in juices, salad dressings and cereals? Various food dyes were actually banned in Finland, Norway, Sweden and France because of the chromosomal damage, thyroid cancer and other issues they have been known to cause. Look out for Blue # 1, Blue #3 Red #40, Yellow #6 and Yellow Tartrazine on your food labels.
BHA and BHT are preservatives found in chewing gum, cereals and chips that help maintain the color and flavor of the food as well as keep it from going bad. The ingredients may be good for the packaged food companies, but they can disturb the function of the neurological system and are considered to be oxidants (as in, the opposite of antioxidants), a well-known cause of cancer.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Go ahead and walk down the snack aisle of any grocery store and pick up a bag of processed food off the shelf. Chances are, one of the listed ingredients is high fructose corn syrup. The additive is found in nearly every processed food and is the main source of fructose in the American diet. Fructose is a FODMAP - a type of carbohydrate that can be difficult for the body to digest. Eating foods with HFCS could be a major trigger of your unwanted gut symptoms.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR GUT HEALTH Not everything you eat has to be fresh, homemade, and packed with nutrients. But the more you choose foods closer to their natural state, the better you will feel, and the more benefits you'll reap. Inside of the 28-Day Gut Makeover, I talk a lot about why less-processed, natural, real food is essential for better gut and hormone health - click here to learn more!