If you need more convincing that it’s a bad idea to eat processed foods, a study published by researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York just might do the trick. The focus of the study is a substance called titanium dioxide, a common food additive that can be found in everything from chewing gum to bread. The researchers discovered that ongoing exposure to even just nanoparticles of titanium oxide can negatively impact your health and wellbeing.
Reconsidering “Generally Recognized as Safe”
According to assistant professor Gretchen Mahler, one of the study’s authors, she and her colleagues were interested in what some of the subtler effects of titanium oxide, which is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mahler and the team exposed a small intestinal cell culture model to the physiological equivalent of a meal’s worth of titanium oxide over four hours—what they termed “acute exposure”—and then repeated the process with three meals’ worth over five days, which they termed “chronic exposure.”
Chronic exposure diminished the absorptive projections on the surface of intestinal cells called microvilli. This made it more difficult for important nutrients to be absorbed, like iron … zinc … and fatty acids. Metabolism overall slowed, enzyme functions were adversely impacted, and inflammation shot up.
Keep in mind that the researchers saw these effects after just three days. Many of us have unknowingly been consuming titanium oxide for years or even decades!
Why Manufacturers Don’t List Titanium Oxide on Labels
Titanium oxide appears in products ranging from mineral-based sunscreens to toothpastes to chocolate to donuts to skim milk. A study done at Arizona State University in 2012 found 89 common food products, including gum, Twinkies, and mayonnaise, all contained titanium oxide.
Their small size may be part of why a compound believed to be safe has been linked to unpleasant health outcomes. Nanoparticles are small enough to penetrate your skin and enter your bloodstream. Scientists are still learning just how this could affect human health, and some of the potential consequences neurological dysfunction and even cancer.
The Best Way to Avoid Titanium Dioxide
In 2015, the advocacy group “As You Sow” convinced Dunkin Donuts to stop using powdered sugar containing titanium oxide on their donuts. Hopefully other companies will make similar changes.
In the meantime, the best way to avoid titanium oxide, Mahler says, is to avoid processed foods—“especially candy!”—which are likely to contain high concentrations of titanium oxide nanoparticles.