You might have come across the carrageenan in the ingredients list of a variety of the products in your local grocery stores. Most people agree that finding products without carrageenan is almost next to impossible.
Carrageenan is used as an additive in almost all of the products even in the so-called ‘all-natural’ stores. It is even found in organic coconut milk, yogurt, baby-formula, and tofu. In case you do not know, it is even present in your nitrite-free turkey cold cuts.
So, what is the thing about carrageenan that makes it controversial?
The particular additive has a long history of controversy due to its reputation as an emulsifier that is linked to considerable damage to the digestive system though recently there have been developments to remove it from certain products.
The National Organics Standards Board forwarded its stance on the removal of carrageenan from the list of substances that are allowed to be used in the manufacturing of organic products back in November of 2016.
However, in accordance with Food Safety News the final decision is still yet to be decided in the November of 2018 because it is typically made by the United States Department of Agriculture after a thorough investigation into the matter.
Is the substance really harmful?
Many people also seem to assume carrageenan is safe after looking at the substance initially mainly because it is found in many foods that are considered healthy. There is enough evidence to show that the substance has a number of different side effects.
Carrageenan has been derived from red seaweed since the 1930s and processed through an alkaline procedure before its addition to different products which makes it appear as a ‘natural’ substance to many people.
It is interesting to note that if the same substance is prepared through an acidic procedure instead of an alkaline one, the final solution is what is commonly referred to as either poligeenan or degraded carrageenan.
This end product is mostly known for its dangerous inflammatory properties and is mostly used in chemical tests for inducing inflammation or for various diseases tests in lab experiments especially the ones that use lab animals.
All of this is important because there the difference between the pH of the end product of both alkaline and the acidic procedure is little yet both are used for entirely different purposes.
If degraded carrageenan is used for inducing inflammation and lab tests, what is carrageenan used for?
This is one of the most common questions raised by people. The substance has been used widely for two main purposes ever since the 1930 – food additive and in conventional medication.
Carrageenan is used frequently as an active ingredient in many of the everyday medicines that are used in the treatment of different health conditions from intestinal issues to common flu and cough. It is also used to reduce pain and swelling which come as result of health issues.
The acidic form of the substance of degraded carrageenan has also seen to be an ingredient in a number of medicines such as the medication for treatment of peptic ulcers. Secondly, it is also used as a bulk laxative.
The main reason the substance is added to food is it serves binder which stabilizes that consistency and structures of many of the foods and other everyday products like mouthwashes and toothpaste even though it adds no benefits or nutritional value.
Although the substance offers a variety of advantages, the potential side effects shown by the various studies on it have shown to cause the following:
- Liver cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Large bowel Ulceration
- Immune suppression
- Fatal toxicity
- Birth defects
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Insulin resistance
- Gluten Intolerance
- Growth of abnormal colon glands
Recently, a majority of the researchers have claimed that the amount of both carrageenans present in many foods and common products is enough to cause inflammation as well as increase the risk of the mentioned health conditions.
Additionally, various studies have shown that both the alkaline procession of the red seaweeds and acidic preparation are potentially harmful and can cause severe health issues in cases of high exposure.
This became apparent after a study in which the effects of eliminating the substance from diet showed many improvements in gastrointestinal health. Secondly, the study linked many gastrointestinal issues from bloating to serious inflammatory bowel disease to the substance.
According to an article published in the Reviews in Toxicology, the carrageenan is safe as long as it makes around five percent or less of the diet. The side effects of mild consumption can be diarrhea or bloating but no severe health issues.
Another report by the Cornucopia Institute showed that the side effects of carrageenan can be really harmful considering that repeated studies of the substance on animals showed the development of many health conditions.
The studies of carrageenan and its effects on animals have shown that that food-grade carrageenan does cause gastrointestinal issues, high levels of inflammation, ulceration, an increased risk of intestinal lesions, and malignant tumors in many parts of the body.
On the contrary, the previously mentioned article in the Reviews in Toxicology claimed that the substance is not harmful in dietary form and is safe in many of the products including baby formula and toothpaste.
Regardless of the presence of conflicting studies, carrageenan and its use in products have been a controversial issue since the 1960s. The FDA even considered banning it in the dietary form in 1972 but the decision was never finalized.
Most of the times, a majority of the researchers have advised avoiding the substance and the products that contain it. The Cornucopia Institute has even created a list to help avoid products and hidden sources of carrageenan.
You can see the list here.
The other way to avoid the substance is by simply reading the ingredient list of the products. The products that do not list the substance are usually alcoholic beverages, typically beer. Make sure to avoid carrageenan in drinks if you plan on excluding it from your diet and life.