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Food Additives and IBD

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If you were to look at a food package and read the ingredients, how would you know if there was an additive listed? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), non-nutritive food additives are used to improve the freshness, texture, safety, and taste of particular foods. 

For example, certain food additives like sodium benzoate are added to foods to help prevent microbial damage to the food and to stop it from spoiling. While food additives can be useful for many reasons, they can also be of concern when it comes to gut health.  Read further to learn how certain additives can affect microbial health in patients with IBD.

Artificial Sweeteners

This can include additives such as sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium which can enhance sweetness without adding extra calories or sugar to the product (1). 

These additives can be found in many products including pastries, candies, sodas, and other items.  These artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase the risk of IBD and even progression of the disease (2). 

One study showed sucralose (commonly found in Splenda), increasing inflammation in animal models for IBD and even changing the gut microbiota (3). 


While there are many emulsifiers that are used for dressings, sauces, desserts, and others.  Examples of emulsifiers include soy lecithin, polysorbate 80 (P80), carrageenan, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), mono-diglycerides, and others. 

Research has shown that most but not all emulsifiers pose a threat to the gut microbiome and change the level of bacteria in the gut (4). 

CMC and P80 particularly have shown to potentially promote intestinal inflammation in both animal (in vivo) and human (in vitro) models (4).

Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are correlated with inflammation in patients with IBD and can increase with ongoing exposure to high amounts of emulsifiers (4).  Although a lot of products will only contain small amounts of these- it is important to consider the cumulative effect and aim for less processed options or food options without them.

Ex. Pickles often contain polysorbate 80 – but not all pickles contain this so it’s an easy swap!

Food colorants 

Food colorants are also considered food additives that can be listed as Red 40, titanium dioxide, Yellow 6, and others.  These colorants are used to enhance a food’s appearance that was once lost during processing. 

These non-nutritive food additives have been shown to negatively affect the epithelial barrier (gut linning) in large amounts and when found frequently in the diet. 

Key Takeaways

We know the impact that nutrition plays in our health and immune system.  While there are many foods that can be beneficial for our gut microbes, there are also few that can become damaging. 

Although it’s important to remember that the dose and amount consumed in a product having awareness of these additives and aiming to find alternatives when possible

For these reasons, we encourage you to limit your intake of ultra-processed foods and focus more on foods that are nutrient dense like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Plant-based protein sources are also encouraged to be consumed in higher amounts compared to animal sources.  


  1. Raoul P, Cintoni M, Palombaro M, Basso L, Rinninella E, Gasbarrini A, Mele MC. Food Additives, a Key Environmental Factor in the Development of IBD through Gut Dysbiosis. Microorganisms. 2022 Jan 13;10(1):167. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms10010167. PMID: 35056616; PMCID: PMC8780106.
  2. Xiaofa Qin, MD, PhD, How Sugar and Soft Drinks Are Related to Inflammatory Bowel Disease?, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Volume 22, Issue 6, 1 June 2016, Pages E18–E19,
  3. Li X, Liu Y, Wang Y, Li X, Liu X, Guo M, Tan Y, Qin X, Wang X, Jiang M. Sucralose Promotes Colitis-Associated Colorectal Cancer Risk in a Murine Model Along With Changes in Microbiota. Front Oncol. 2020 Jun 3;10:710. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.00710. PMID: 32582527; PMCID: PMC7286428.
  4. Naimi, S., Viennois, E., Gewirtz, A.T. et al. Direct impact of commonly used dietary emulsifiers on human gut microbiota. Microbiome 9, 66 (2021).
  5. 5. Chassaing B, Koren O, Carvalho FA, Ley RE, Gewirtz AT. AIEC pathobiont instigates chronic colitis in susceptible hosts by altering microbiota composition. Gut. 2014;63:1069–80.
  6.  Jiang H-Y, Wang F, Chen HM, Yan XJ. κ-carrageenan induces the disruption of intestinal epithelial Caco-2 monolayers by promoting the interaction between intestinal epithelial cells and immune cells. Mol Med Rep. 2013;8:1635–42.