Carrageenan (Natural Food Additive)
Carrageenan is a common food additive that is extracted from a red seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which is popularly known as Irish moss. Carrageenan, which has no nutritional value, has been used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk, and other processed foods.
Just because something claims it’s natural, that does not mean it is good for your body. So, if you really are going natural, you may want to stick to organic or farm-grown fruits and vegetables and not buy those labels which claim that they are using all natural ingredients.
Some commercial producers of organic foods such as soy-milk, yogurt, chocolate, and even ice cream, often add an ingredient called ‘carrageenan’, which is a natural ingredient but is added to give foods a creamier texture or thicker consistency so that even those skimmed or low-fat versions taste wholesome.
1. What Is Carrageenan?
It is taken from a red seaweed, and is often added to various packaged drinks to keep the various ingredients in the food together and from separating. This includes those claimed to be all-natural nutritional shakes, soups, milk products, dairy substitutes, and even frozen dinners.
2. Problems With Carrageenan
Although it is derived from a plant-based natural source, and there is seemingly nothing wrong with using it, here are some problems with it:
-Consuming too much of carrageenan can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), on and off gut issues, and even have destructive effects on the digestive system.
-Moreover, it is also said to manipulate the body’s immune responses, like the way Salmonella does when your body gets invaded by pathogens. This results in inflammation, the formation of ulcers, and bleeding. Further studies have shown that any existing predisposition to inflammation also gets aggravated and frequents as the enzymes from carrageenan provokes the immune systems to do so.
-Joanne Tobacman, an expert researcher on carrageenan and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago, discovered these findings when studying the possible relationship between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals. She is currently conducting a study funded by the National Institutes of Health about how carrageenan can aggravate and affect ulcerative colitis (a chronic inflammatory disease of the large intestine and rectum with recurring pangs of abdominal pain, fever, chills, and diarrhea) as well as other ailments like diabetes.
-Although heavily downplayed, the concern over carrageenan is nothing new. What began in the 1960s, as a research study on lab animals, showed researchers the direct relationships between this “natural” food additive and gastrointestinal diseases such as colitis, intestinal bruising, and even colon cancer.
-Charlotte Vallaeys, the Director of Farm and Food Policy at the Cornucopia Institute (an organic watchdog group which supports family-scale farming), explained that carrageenan has zero nutritional value. The organization has been monitoring the usage of the so far legalized usage of carrageenan in various foods and has now issued a nationwide petition to convince the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the usage of this ingredient in foods.
3. How To Be Your Own Anti-Carrageenan Watchdog
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board has not voted against using natural fillers like carrageenan from organic foods for over 4 years. So rather than waiting for bureaucracy to let this ban see the light of day, here is what you can do to cut or keep carrageenan out of your diet and daily food intake:
-Labels Have It All
In accordance with the law, carrageenan needs to be mentioned on the labels of any food that has used it as an ingredient, organic or not. In fact, if you look at the beverages which use carrageenan as an ingredient, it would not always have that “Shake Well” label on the packaging, because carrageenan is a natural blender of all the ingredients.
-The Carrageenan-free checklist
The Cornucopia Institute has made their own buying guide or safety checklist for people to follow and purchase carrageenan-free products. Some companies which don’t use it are So Delicious, Stonyfield Farm, Oregon Ice Cream, and Eden Foods, which are all contributing to the anti-carrageenan movement too.