Most of us know that eating a lot of cheese on a regular basis isn’t exactly the healthiest diet choice. According to a recent Harvard study, it’s not just the extra calories or cholesterol that we should worry about. Instead, a common food preservative might be what's messing with our metabolism.
Propionate or propionic acid, is added to several food products, most commonly cheeses and baked goods to ward off mold. Although it’s listed as safe to consume by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), study author Gökhan S. Hotamışlıgil told Gizmodo, “It does lead to a surge of blood glucose.” When that happens naturally, it's a good thing, like when you’ve gone without food for too long or have dangerously low blood sugar. In this case, however, “it was almost tricking the body into thinking that it needs to produce more glucose when it doesn’t.”
The more unnecessary glucose our body makes, the more likely we are to develop insulin resistance. This can lead to issues like type 2 diabetes and obesity. It obviously sounds pretty scary, but before you shun all cheese, it’s important to know that this particular study only involved 14 participants. Charles Dinerstein, MD, MBA, FACS, Senior Medical Fellow at the American Council on Science and Health, wrote a skeptical review of the study calling it “interesting” but “not a call to arms.”
Although more research needs to be done, it’s probably still a good idea to cut back on how much processed food you’re eating. Another study from earlier this year claimed that inorganic phosphates that are also often added to food could be to blame for causing “exercise intolerance." That's literally a scientific way of saying even a little bit of processed food can make us too tired to work out.
We all know eating whole food is better for us anyway, but doesn't mean your meals have to be sad. Hearty recipes like chicken with eggplant, olives, and apricots or sweet chili-glazed salmon can be whipped up with fresh ingredients — and hit the spot without any potential side effects from preservatives.