Does Cooking at Home Prevent Cancer?

Does Cooking at Home Prevent Cancer?
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Those of us who take pleasure in cooking at home – whether it be because it’s often healthier and easier to control the ingredients that go into our dishes or because it’s just plain fun – might incidentally be taking steps to prevent cancer.

Researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University have found that an omnipresent ingredient in packaged food could increase the risk of developing colon cancer. The culprit? A category of ingredients known as emulsifiers.

You’re probably already familiar with the word given how often we emulsify things in the kitchen. From vinaigrettes to hollandaise sauce, any combination of a liquid with a fat that remains stable is an emulsification. But while homemade emulsifications are relatively delicate and easy to break, a store-bought mayonnaise holds together like glue.

That’s because these foods contain chemicals used to force fats and liquids together, making bottled salad dressing and puddings easy to package and sell. And while these ingredients have certainly made the packaged food industry a pretty penny, the Georgia State University researchers recently published a study detailing their link to an increased risk of colon cancer.

The research first began with an attempt to see how emulsifiers affected the gut and the body. The researchers soon found that these ingredients can negatively impact the good bacteria in the gut, increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome as well as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and inflammation.

These findings led the researchers to dig deeper. In their latest study, the team fed two commonly used emulsifiers – polysorbate 80, which is used in ice creams and puddings, as well as in some vaccines, vitamins, and supplements, and carboxymethylcellulose, used in some processed cheeses, gelatinous desserts, and artificial tears – to a test group of mice for three months. The results were clear: the emulsifiers promoted tumor growth in the mice, and only time will tell what it means for humans.

“We think that can create a niche for tumor development,” Emilie Viennois, the lead researcher, told Time.

The next step is to continue studying both other emulsifiers and what these findings mean for human health.

But while the proof is not yet in the proverbial pudding, Viennois isn’t going to be eating any packaged foods – pudding or otherwise – any time soon. She recommends that people try to cook instead of consuming too many packaged products, and we can’t say we disagree.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.