The alleged culprit: titanium dioxide, which is used to make food look, well, prettier—it works as a brightener, similar to your favorite highlighter. But researchers at Binghamton University in New York found that it can keep nutrients from being absorbed effectively in your digestive tract, and can increase inflammation at the same time.
So popping a stick of gum in your mouth after eating a delicious salad may get rid of your kale breath, but if it's a regular habit, it might undermine some of the good-for-you benefits.
"Don't worry, it won't kill you! But we were interested in the subtle effects, and we think people should know about them."
In the study, participants who ate foods with titanium dioxide for five days straight (three meals a day) began to have changes in the structure of their small intestine's surface cells—called microvilli. The microvilli lost some of their absorptive power, making nutrients like iron, zinc, and fatty acids more difficult to be ingested and used in the body. In addition, the intestinal barrier weakened, and metabolism slowed.
Just to be clear, though: The additive—which is in a lot of personal care products as well, everything from toothpaste to sunscreen—is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration. (And the Environmental Working Group puts the ingredient in the "good" range.)
"Don't worry, it won't kill you!" says Binghamton assistant professor Gretchen Mahler, one of the authors of the study. "But we were interested in some of the subtle effects, and we think people should know about them."
The takeaway: If you're sleuthing the cause of your tummy troubles, cutting the amount of titanium dioxide you take in might help you get things moving at a healthy pace again. But don't get it twisted—it's nothing to obsess over; in fact, the sugar in your gum is doing way more damage than this ingredient ever will. (And by the way, if you're ready to kick that habit, here's our handy guide.)
Of course chewing gum isn't the only sneaky cause of bloating. Check out what else to avoid before seeing what inflammation-fighting foods to fill up on instead.
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