Have you ever heard of or seen the ingredient carrageenan? I’ve noticed it on the ingredient label of some foods for years now. When I first looked it up (circa 2008), I learned that it was a substance extracted from seaweed and that it was considered natural.
Natural? Good enough for me.
But over the years I began to realize that 1) the claim “natural” on a food package bears no weight whatsoever, and 2) not all things natural are necessarily good for you.
And then I noticed a tweet (I’ve recently succumbed to the twitter sect; late, I know.) from the Cornucopia Institute about this carrageenan additive and how it is making us sick. Like, inducing intestinal inflammation and ulcerative colitis, sick.
This information doesn’t come from your overly-holistic, wacky type of source, either. There is science to back it up; from the early 1960’s to present day. Initially, the research comprised of animal studies but more recently, humans studies. Research shows that carrageenan triggers an innate immune response, leading to inflammation of the intestinal cells. We know that prolonged inflammation is the root cause of MANY diseases. And if this prolonged inflammation is localized to the gut, we start to see Celiacs, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer and other gastrointestinal diseases.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a sulphated polysaccharide (carbohydrate) extracted from red seaweed.
Why is it used?
Carrageenan lends favorable textures and properties to processed foods. It gives foods a voluptuous, fatty mouth-feel (as in low fat yogurts) and is also used to prevent liquids from separating (think soy and almond milk).
What foods do and don’t contain Carrageenan?
You can check out the full list here. To keep it short, it’s in things like yogurts, non-dairy milks (soy, almond), cottage cheese, some types of meats, and many snack foods. However, some brands do not use carrageenan; those can be found in the link above.
Why Shouldn’t I eat it?
As previously mentioned, carrageenan induces intestinal inflammation which, if exposed to over a prolonged period of time, leads to gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, etc. Symptoms can range from mild belly-bloat to full on irritable bowel syndrome. You don’t need to ingest a ton of carrageenan either; the amounts that are used in foods is enough to cause low-grade inflammation and although this type of inflammation is often symptom-free, it still poses a health risk. Chronic low-grade inflammation is not healthy and still leads to disease later on down the road.
So, there’s all this research but we still use it in our foods? Sure do.
…carrageenan made its way into organic foods due to carelessness by government regulators, misinformation supplied by corporate “independent” scientists advising the USDA, and successful lobbying by carrageenan manufacturers and food processors convincing organic consumers that it’s both a safe and necessary ingredient.
It’s your classic scenario where large food manufacturers have the utmost control over the industry. It shouldn’t be this way.
What to do now?
Read your labels and avoid products with carrageenan. Save yourself the stomach-ache.
Take some political action and sign the FDA petition to remove carrageenan from the food supply