The food additive that slows mold growth and your metabolism

Why is it some people can eat potatoes, bread, chocolate cake and other tasty treats from time to time and still look like Elle McPherson?

Yet, some of us can’t even look at a chocolate chip cookie in the Panera bakery display without gaining five pounds.

It’s like their metabolism is the CEO of Fortune 500 tech company and yours is a sleep-deprived teenager working the McDonald’s drive-thru. One’s taking walking meetings and wearing identical black turtlenecks every day in the spirit of ultimate efficiency. The other can barely keep his eyes open long enough to hand you a carton of chicken nuggets.

If you’re already a little (or a lot) overweight and you’re prediabetic (or diabetic), there’s a good chance your metabolism is sleeping on the job. And the reason may surprise you…

Some of it has to do with genetics, of course. But an ingredient in your food could be setting you up for metabolic failure too.

It’s an ingredient you may not know to avoid. And it’s in a lot of foods you might eat regularly, like whole grain bread and cheese…

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Propionate: The preservative propagating obesity and diabetes

Propionate is a preservative found in foods like bread, baked goods, cheese, and artificial flavorings. It’s supposed to prevent mold growth. But research shows it does much more than that…

It causes weight gain, insulin resistance and increases the risk of diabetes.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health just performed a study to see how propionate effects people and mice. And here’s what they found…

Mice exposed to propionate had an extreme and immediate reaction. Their sympathetic nervous system was instantly triggered. It released hormones, like glucagon, norepinephrine, and a newly discovered hormone called fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4). Then their liver cells started producing more glucose and — tada! — they developed high blood sugar. Mice given propionate for a longer time gained weight and developed insulin resistance.

So, propionate is harmful to mice. But what about people?

Researchers tested the effects of propionate on 14 people too. Half of these people received a meal that contained a gram of propionate and the other half received a placebo. The propionate people quickly released the same hormones as it did in the mice — norepinephrine, glucagon, and FABP4. The people also experienced increased insulin resistance.

As a result, researchers decided propionate is a “metabolic disruptor” that raises the risk for obesity and diabetes in people.

Where you’ll find propionate

Right now, the FDA says propionate is safe for human consumption. That means you’ll find it in LOTS of food. But the top culprits are:

  • Baked goods like bread, pastries and pizza dough
  • Dairy products like cheese, milk, yogurt, puddings, and spreads
  • Meats like processed meat, poultry, sausage casings, and preserved fish

This list is far from exhaustive. If you’re eating processed food, chances are, propionate is part of it. It’s in sports drinks, diet foods, diet beverages, vinegar, mustard, soups, sauces, seaweeds, and nut butters. So, read your labels.

Of course, certain foods you might not think to read the label on… like cheese or meat. The moral of the story is, always look, even if you think you’re eating a “whole” food.

Because you never know what weird metabolism-killing, diabetes-inducing ingredients food manufacturers are trying to sneak on your plate.

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  1. Could a popular food ingredient raise the risk for diabetes and obesity? — MedicalXpress
  2. The short-chain fatty acid propionate increases glucagon and FABP4 production, impairing insulin action in mice and humansScience Translational Medicine
  3. A Common Food Additive Is Linked to Insulin Resistance. Here’s What That Means — LiveScience
  4. Foods Containing Calcium Propionate — Jillian Michaels
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and