How many of us look up the ingredients of every food we eat, let alone investigate every obscure, unpronounceable additive to make sure it’s safe? We should be able to assume the foods in our pantries aren’t going to cause us long-term harm, but it’s possible that some of them are. Processed foods can contain all sorts of questionable ingredients. But some food additives can cause us harm. And this one, in particular, should give us all pause.
If a product is being packaged and sold as food, it should all be okay to eat, right? A common food additive, propionate, could be one among numerous additives that are silently causing harm. According to Harvard Health, manufacturers add propionate, also called propionic acid, to breads, jams and jellies, puddings, frostings, cheeses and other food items to inhibit the growth of mold.
Additives are nothing new, especially in processed foods. They keep products fresher longer, preserve flavor and color, and add to a food’s texture and consistency. often, they just plain make our food more delicious. Because they’re so common, most of us don’t think twice about seeing a handful of obvious additives in an ingredients list. And more often than not, we have no idea what they are. Not to mention, we usually can't even pronounce them.
But propionate may have serious long-term effects on the human body.
Recent research on mice has uncovered just how unhealthy propionate can be, with research on humans showing similar results. There’s growing evidence that long-term excessive exposure to this chemical can contribute to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes. It may also cause weight gain, further raising obesity risks.
Other studies have shown propionate might disrupt the endocrine system by altering the composition of microbes in the gut, which can have profound impacts on the way the body metabolizes food. A serious imbalance in the gut alone may be enough to cause metabolic issues like diabetes and obesity.
In addition to wreaking havoc on metabolism, propionate may also have the potential to affect cardiovascular and mental health.
A healthy microbiome is vital to a healthy body, so avoiding foods that contain propionate and similar endocrine-disrupting chemicals could go a long way toward rebuilding a healthy and balanced system. It’s up to each of us to take charge of what we’re putting into our bodies. Read labels before putting items in the shopping cart and avoid processed foods, which are more likely to contain all types of additives, including propionate, as much as possible. Cook using fresh, whole ingredients to avoid unnecessary chemicals, so you can get the most out of your meals in terms of nutrition while also avoiding unnecessary ingestion of additives.
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