You know when you go to take an ice cream Instagram, and the ice cream looks perfectly smooth and delicious? One of the reasons it looks so pretty is because it contains emulsifiers, chemicals used to increase food's shelf life and improve its texture. Turns out that same chemical could also cause cancer.
A study led by researcher Emilie Viennois at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University and published in the Cancer Research journal found that emulsifiers may alter intestinal bacteria in such a way that leads to inflammation and colorectal cancer. Grub Street points out that colorectal cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
In a previous study, Viennois was able to link emulsifiers to changing good bacteria living in the guts of mice. The change in the bacteria promoted metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
In the latest study—which focused on whether or not emulsifiers affected colon cancer—mice were fed emulsifiers in their water for three months. The result? Changes in their gut microbes and tumor growth. Viennois found that the microbial changes and high levels of inflammation caused a "cancer friendly environment," TIME reports.
Viennois told Cosmopolitan.com that she's working to see if dietary intervention like probiotics can minimize the effect of emulsifiers. For now, though, she says her main recommendation is to minimize the intake of processed food. "Homemade food is the best way to avoid emulsifiers," she says.
Emulsifiers are more common than you might realize. They're found in almost all processed foods—including foods you probably eat every day—like ice cream, chocolate bars, store-bought bread, soda, and margarine, to name a few.
Although federal regulations don't allow foods to contain more than 1 to 2 percent of any oneemulsifier, there isn't a cap on the total number of emulsifiers that can be used.
Guess you'll never look at an Instagram of ice cream the same way ever again.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.