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If you take the time to read the food labels, you will find this ingredient is listed very often. Then again some respected healthy food brands are stating they are "Carrageenan free". So what is the truth? Is this food additive safe?

What Is Carrageenan And Why Is It In Your Food?

This substance is extracted from a red seaweed and added to various foods because it improves food texture and makes it thicker and creamier. Carrageenan is also added to drinks like non-dairy milk, shakes, and soups to prevent ingredients from separating (which is a common problem with low-fat products). Additionally this additive falls in the group of gelling agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers.

What Does Food Industry Say?

The US Food and Drug Administration made the following conclusion about carrageenan in 1973:

“While no evidence in the available information on undegraded carrageenan demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced, uncertainties exist requiring that additional studies should be conducted.”

This sounds confusing to me. First of all, what levels of carrageenan were consumed in 1973 and what levels are consumed now? Because of population growth and a slight economic growth, the rate of carrageenan consumption is expected to grow by five to seven percent per year.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t feel comfortable eating something that could be potentially dangerous for my health, certainly when eaten in larger quantitoes. I prefer to eat food which is safe and can even have health benefits ( which is the case with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds).

This additive is listed as “generally recognized as safe” but on the other hand the latest recommendation from 2007 says that it shouldn’t be among ingredients of infant formula because of possible negative effects on infants (recommendation by the joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives).

Just think about it for a second, imagine how many manufacturers profit from carrageenan or its use in foods and beverages. So it’s natural that their powerful lobby groups will fight for continued FDA approval.

Can You Assume That This Additive Is Safe Because It Is Plant-Derived?

Unfortunately, research has shown that this popular ingredient can lead to multiple health problems. Most of those are related to the digestive organs. Carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago, explains that Carrageenan can cause inflammation which could further cause ulcers, bleeding and ultimately even cancer. If you are interested in researching this topic deeper you will find a large number of studies which all concluded that there is the link between carrageenan and induced inflammatory response.

This actually means that our body recognizes carrageenan as a dangerous invader and tries to protect us from it. Some researchers compare the body's reaction to carrageenan with body's reaction to the pathogenic bacteria Salmonella. So not only can this food additive cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal system, and serious illnesses like ulcers, irritable bowel disease (IBD), colitis, colon cancer but it can also potentially lead to insulin resistance which is a symptom of Type 2 Diabetes.

Of course the symptoms vary, since we are not all equally sensitive and do not intake the same amount of this food additive on a daily basis. If you have some of the symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and stomach cramps, you should  try to avoid all carrageenan-containing food  and see if your symptoms will improve.

Even the absence of noticeable gastrointestinal symptoms does not mean that you are unaffected by carrageenan simply because low-grade inflammation may go unnoticed. Every day more and more people complain about food sensitivities and the first thing they should eliminate from their diets are unsafe food additives, carrageenan being one of them.

Even if most of the researches have been conducted on animals, I think that results are strong enough that we should be aware of the potential dangers of this food ingredient.

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