Why are some researchers suggesting emulsifiers may be causing or impacting inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? Emulsifiers are those foods and additives that allow oily and watery liquids to blend and stay together, to make salad dressings, mayonnaise, and butter. Mustard, egg yolk, and honey are natural emulsifiers. Synthetic emulsifiers like carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, are common food additives that blend and stabilize many processed foods. 

Studies with those two synthetic emulsifiers show they decrease the mucus layer that protects the surface of the intestine. When the mucus layer is thin, chemicals and bacteria (the microbiome) can penetrate and infect the intestine.  In experimental animals, the use of synthetic emulsifiers resulted in severe colitis.

Other common emulsifiers include

  • Soy and egg lecithin
  • CSL Calcium Stearoyl Di Laciate
  • PolyGlycerol Ester (PGE)
  • Mono- and diglycerides
  • Polysorbates
  • Carrageenan
  • Guar gum
  • Canola oil

There isn't the same degree of research on the other synthetic emulsifiers listed, but they are thought to have the same effect. For now, it is best to check the ingredients list on the nutrition label. If you are having symptoms or concerns, you may wish to avoid foods with any of these ingredients listed. The natural emulsifiers (mustard, egg, honey) should be fine; however, all three have the potential to aggravate IBD symptoms in those who are sensitive. See mustard, egg, honey.

Synthetic emulsifiers are commonly found in store-bought

  • Candies
  • Bread
  • Chocolate
  • Spreads
  • Margarine
  • Baking goods
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen foods
  • Salad dressings

Bottom Line

Emulsifiers (and maltodextrin) can alter the intestinal environment and promote the development of IBD. Since chemical emulsifiers and maltodextrin are found in so many processed foods, most diets for IBD eliminate or at least reduce processed foods and encourage foods that are fresh and not processed or are minimally processed.


Instead of buying dressing from the store when you make a salad, you can make a healthy vinaigrette at home. Here's a recipe using mustard, a healthy emulsifier.


2 ounces: Balsamic or other vinegar

2 ounces of olive oil or other vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of Dijon or prepared mustard

1 teaspoon of sugar or honey (can add a bit more, for taste)

Shake well

(stores well in the refrigerator for several days) 

Subscribe Be the first to know