What is emulsifier in food?

What is emulsifier in food used to disperse lemon juice, for example into olive oil for a salad dressing? These chemicals make up a large part of ultra-processed meals; and are being fingered causing large increases in the risk of cancer, particularly of the breast and prostate.

We remember a time when peanut-butter, for example came with a film of oil on top. Some consumers obviously found it irritating to stir the pot before spreading their favourite dressing on a slice of bread with jelly; so food manufacturers started adding emulsifiers to disperse the fat.

Monoglycerides of fatty acids (E471) are commonly used in peanut-butter; they are made synthetically from palm oil.

Ultra-processed foods make up a large part of typical grocery store meals; large epidemiological studies have in the past linked them with an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and general mortality. New research after following over 100,000 French consumers for nearly seven years has added cancers of the breast, prostate and colorectal region to the list; from emulsifiers added to their daily fare.

Oil separating on peanut butter

Another emulsifier used in peanut butter is lecithin. It's a natural substance found in both plant and animal tissue; but it is usually extracted using high temperatures and a solvent such as hexane.

Lecithin in fact is an important nutritional substance being the main source of choline, a lipid so important it really should be listed amongst the B vitamins. But like many vegetable oils, once heated and solvent-extracted it becomes a totally different beast.

The NutriNet-Santé study

The European Food Safety Agency has recently evaluated these food emulsifiers and has no concerns. Yet the NutriNet-Santé study found that consumption of synthetic carrageenans (E407), glycerides of fatty acids (E471) and pectins (E440) increased the overall risk of all types of cancer by 15%; and far more of the breast and prostate.

Highest consumption of sodium bicarbonate (E500) too was associated with a 48% increased risk of malignant breast tumours.

Highest consumption of diphosphates (E450) is associated with a 45% increase in malignant breast tumours.


The healthy human alimentary canal is inhabited by many friendly bacteria, viruses and yeasts. These organisms have a profoundly important role in combating generalised inflammation in the body. The researchers state these emulsifiers in food impact negatively on this "normal flora."

The net result is chronic inflammation, the risk of many bowel and other "extraintestinal" cancers; the breast and prostate for example.

There are many probiotics that will support the normal flora. Researchers are at pains to point out that it not only the number of bugs is important but also the diversity. Thus taking supplements with just a few different  bacteria has little value.

Far better is probiotics from our food. For millennia folk have been making sauerkraut, brewing wines, beers and meads and soured milk products such as kefir.

Kefir is to my mind the simplest of them all. It takes about five minutes to make up a smoothie with natural honey, various fruits and finely ground seeds.

Kefir also happens to be the best known source of calcium for the menopausal woman.

How to make kefirJust a few minutes to prepare kefir


The authors state clearly that malignant tumours are multifactorial; and that emulsifiers in food alone provide only a small risk. However they could well be the straws that break the camel's back; added to other carcinogens such as tobacco smoke, commercial alcohol and stabilisers the danger is very real.


Stabilizers too have a similar role in ultra-processed foods. One that the scientists are recommending we be cautious about.


It's worth nothing the dangers of orthorexia; an extreme concern about the right way of eating. It is a serious antisocial psychological disease. What is emulsifier in food? The risks are small. There is absolutely minimal risk of accepting an invitation to dinner, a communal business lunch or a date with a friend.

But on a daily basis we do need to avoid ultraprocessed foods that contain emulsiers in food; stabilzers, flavour enhancers and other chemicals too. A 48% increased risk of breast cancer from using bicarb (E500) is indeed scary.

Many people use bicarb to brush their teeth on a daily basis; just make sure you spit it all out and rinse your mouth thoroughly.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

We have chosen peanut butter as a typical example of what is emulsifier in food. But there is another good reason to look at the list of ingredients; there is a lot of sugar added to most commercial brands.

Alas the typical PB&J sandwich contains well over 100 grams of carbs; far more than should be eaten at any one meal. They are the highway to insulin-resistance and diabetes; happily there is a solution.

Choose a peanut-butter that has no sugar or emulsifier added; there should be a layer of oil on top; and a low GI loaf of bread.


Natural pectin in fruit is one of the most important forms of soluble fibre; it provides the pre-biotic needed by the bugs in the alimentary canal. But once extracted and processed by food manufacturers[2] into an emulsifier it becomes just one more chemical that raises the spectre of a malignant tumour; a massive 55% increase in the risk of breast cancer.

I am sometimes accused of being a scare-monger, a food snob and other such epithets. I gladly don the shirt; having just recently had contact with two patients who have lost loved ones in their thirties to breast cancer, it does worry me. It should bother all of us.

But the natural pectin in fruit is an excellent bioactive compound promoting the wellbeing of the gut, reducing the absorption of cholesterol and helping to alleviate constipation.


We regularly use tahini in our home; it's a butter made from sesame seeds. There are two options on the shelves. One is imported from a small Greek island, with a layer of oil on top; the other is smooth and creamy. Knowing now what is emulsifier in food, I hope you are able to make the right choice.

What is emulsifier in food?

What is emulsifier in food is a disturbing question of wellness. Added to the many other chemicals like stabilizers and flavour-enhancers, it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The increased risk of cancer is substantial, especially of the breast and prostate.

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