Carrageenan – Have a Little Colitis with Your Coffee?
is a common food additive that’s used in a variety of food products but particularly dairy products! There have been some controversial studies that link it to gastrointestinal inflammation, including colitis and colon cancer in lab rats.
However, is the bad rap warranted or is it truly bad for you? That’s what you need to know!
In 2010, I suffered a horrible bout of colitis, which had never happened before! My gastrointestinal symptoms seemingly, came out of nowhere. A few years later, I found out about carrageenan and I believe that it was responsible for my illness. Why? At the time I got sick, I was consuming a multitude of products that contained it, including soy milk, dairy creamers, and beer.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan (“care-ah-gee-nun”) is a naturally occurring (and indigestible) polysaccharide; an ingredient that’s derived from red seaweed, called Irish Moss. When added to foods or beverages, it acts as a thickening agent or gel, similar to gum.
You’ll often see this additive used in conjunction with agar, guar gum, or xantham gum.
What does it do?
It thickens things: Added to pancake syrup, marshmallow fluff, ice cream, and nut milks.
It emulsifies things: Helps liquids stay mixed together without separation.
Changes the texture: Makes things thicker or chewier.
Stabilizes crystals: Prevents sugars or ice from crystallizing.
On a molecular level, carrageenan is similar to plastic because it bends easily and snaps right back into place. I compare it to elastin, the stuff in hair and skin that helps the cells keep their original shape.
It’s also super inexpensive to buy, stable, and easy to obtain and distribute so you’ll find it in a plethora of different products. It’s also added to many milk products, especially plant or nut based milk products and even those labeled organic, as it improves viscosity.
Two Types of Carrageenan
According to Chris Kresser, there are two types of this food additive.
The undegraded kind is approved for use in food products, while the degraded kind (called poligeenan) is not. Even though both are referred to as ‘carrageenan,’ they have very different chemical properties and weights.
There have also been studies using both kinds and the results are a mixed bag. You can read it for yourself on Chris' page here.
Effects on the Human Body
Degraded carrageenan causes inflammation and can cause serious digestive issues, including (but not limited to) diarrhea, cramping, bloating, ulcers along the intestinal tract, increased intestinal permeability). It is also considered a possible tumor and cancer-causing carcinogen. Because the additive has organic origins, it can also be found in organic foods. Lab animals that are given the additive produce inflammatory symptoms.
There have been numerous studies done on carrageenan to date. Because there’s no conclusive evidence that links it to intestinal issues, you will need to make judgements for yourself. When I was sick and didn’t know about it, I was drinking tons of soy milk to soothe my digestive system!
List of Products
Gummy products (like gummy bears)
Dairy products/nut and plant milks, sour cream, creamers, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, ricotta cheese, egg nog and custard, cheese products, whipped cream, kefir, chocolate milk, buttermilk.
Nutritional bars and drinks
Chicken and turkey lunch meats
All liquid infant formula except for Gerbers Good Start
Bottled coffee beverages
Frozen chicken strips
Some chocolate bars
*Produces a 'foaming action' in these products.
For a more complete Cornucopia list, see this page.
Making sure you skim over the ingredients of the foods you buy is paramount, especially if you already have issues with other additives. Realize too, that while the FDA does check labels, they only check to see if the Nutrition panel is present, rather than whether or not it’s accurate.
They do NOT check for deceptive practices, for example if a product displays 'Fat Free' or 'Made with Real Fruit'. You’re on your own to interpret their claims!
The FDA also states that roughly one of every 10 food product labels contain inaccuracies. A product label has to 'erroneous' more than 20 percent to violate federal laws, while government food labs have only a 10 percent margin or error.
This means that an item labeled as 400 calories can legally have 480 calories. Using the 10 percent margin or error can bring that number up to 500!
According to Dr. Mercola, that’s not all you need to take into account when checking food labels.
Its time that 'we the people' woke up and realized that the government and BIG PHARMA is working hard to make you sick and dependent! (It's NOT only mental torture that they want to inflict!) It is clearly up to you to read between the lines. The food industry wants your dollars and they will do whatever deceptive practices it takes to ensure you buy them!
My best advice is to make your own meals using basic ingredients from nature. Your body will last a lot longer, even though you have to do a bit more work to prepare them. Processed foods have destabilized our food landscape and ALL food additives should be consumed minimally. You can get a full report about carrageenan from the Cornucopia Institute here:
Always consult your physician before using natural remedies, especially for anyone with preexisting conditions or anyone currently taking prescription medications. Although many efforts are made to ensure that the advice given on this site is professionally sound, the advice is not intended to replace a mutual relationship with a medical provider.
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