Carrageenan: the ingredient that seems to be added to so many products nowadays. It’s found in ice-cream, sauces, dairy and alternatives (soy, almond milk etc), processed meat, processed vegan meat substitutes and even supplements and toothpaste, just to name a few.
So what is carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a food grade additive that is derived from red seaweed (also known as Irish Moss). It is used as a thickener and is found in many vegan processed foods as an alternative to gelatine.
There are two types of carrageenan: degraded and undegraded. Undegraded carrageenan is approved for human consumption however degraded carrageenan (also known as poligeenan) is not approved for human consumption.
The problem? Research has shown that food grade carrageenan (undegraded) has been contaminated with poligeenan (degraded carrageenan). Levels should be kept below 5% however independent tests have shown some levels to be as high as 25%. The 2013 Cornucopia report states that carrageenan manufacturers have no reliable way of determining the levels of contamination with degraded carrageenan in their food-grade products. Out of 12 samples tested, not one was free of the degraded carrageenan which is not approved for human consumption and is a possible carcinogen.
But carrageenan is natural right?
Yes, carrageenan is natural but that does not mean that it is healthy or safe.
Arsenic and deadly nightshade are also naturally occurring.
So what are the health concerns?
Carrageenan has been linked to inflammation within the body which can cause an auto-immune type reaction within the body as well as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It very often causes inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract and causes digestive issues. This might be anything from minor bloating to other more serious concerns in the liver. I have seen various clients completely remove carrageenan from their diet and their gastro issues have finally cleared up.
Although a lot of the earlier studies were conducted on animals (which is always hard to extrapolate to humans), there have been more recent studies using human cell cultures to identify the biological mechanisms by which carrageenan is causing inflammation. One of the particular immune pathways activated by carrageenan is similar to those activated by other ‘natural’ poisons such as pathogenic bacteria (including salmonella)-source: Cornucopia report, 2013.
What is more alarming is that long term research carried out by Dr Tobacman in both the UK and the USA shows that undegraded carrageenan – the type that is widely used in foods, is associated with malignancies and other stomach problems. She has also shown that undegraded carrageenan can convert to poligeenan in storage, under heating and the digestive tract due to its acidity and bacterial environment.
Dr Tobacman has published 18 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the dangers of carrageenan and the harmful effects that it is having on our health. In April 2012 she asked the National Organic Standards Board to reconsider the use of carrageenan in organic food. She has also asked the FDA to prohibit carrageenan as a food additive yet the FDA refused this request.
Although carrageenan has been approved as safe by the FDA, Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food has been quoted in the past as saying, ‘We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals and we do not know the volume of particular chemicals that are going into the food supply’
So if carrageenan is safe, why have companies (mainly in the USA) such as Stonyfield Organic and whitewave Foods removed carrageenan from all their food products? There are studies going back as far as the 1960’s showing the effects of carrageenan. How much more research will it take? I have decided to completely avoid this additive in anything that I consume. I urge you to consider this too, especially if you have intestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
Please note that carrageenan may also be labelled as Vegetable Gum (407), Carrageenan Gum, E407 or E407a.
For further information go to http://www.cornucopia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Carrageenan-Report1.pdf