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Is carrageenan bad for you?

by Jared
(Michigan, USA)

Jared's question...

I have been hearing some bad things about an ingredient in foods called "carrageenan," and I was wondering what you think about it. What is it? Is it bad for you?

Suzy's answer...

This is a great question, Jared! It is also a very controversial subject, so it is difficult to give you a definitive answer.

First, let me say that carrageenan is a food additive that is derived from a red form of seaweed. Although it has no real nutritional value it is used as a thickener and to create a creamy texture in foods, such as cottage cheese, ice cream, yogurt, nut milks, soy milk and other processed foods.

According to the U.S. government, carrageenan is categorized as "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS). What this means is that the government cannot find sufficient evidence that carrageenan is harmful to remove it from the food supply. (Whether this decision was affected by powerful food lobbies is difficult to say, but it is certainly something that should be considered.)

There is an effort underway to get carrageenan removed from the list of additives that can be included in foods with the "USDA ORGANIC" label, that has so far been unsuccessful.

Here is a quote from the Select Committee on GRAS Substances, with regard to this food additive:

“While no evidence in the available information on undegraded carrageenan demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current
and in the manner now practiced, uncertainties exist requiring that additional studies should be conducted.”

I find this answer troubling, because there is some evidence that undegraded carrageen (the kind they use as a food additive) can be changed during the process of digestion to become the degraded form that has been shown to cause inflammation--the underlying cause of most diseases. The same research also suggested that even the undegraded form can be problematic to the human gastrointestinal tract.

In addition, this research showed that even exposure to small amounts of this food additive can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

So, to answer your question, Jared, I would say that you should probably skip foods that contain carrageenan. Why take the chance with your health, when this questionable food additive can be easily limited or avoided?

If you check food labels, you will find that, with care, you can still find cottage cheese, yogurt and nut milks that do not have this additive. In fact, my suggestion is that you limit processed foods altogether, since if you are eating more fresh whole foods, you will not have to struggle as much with this issue of food additives.

For more information on food additives, click on this link.

I hope this helps, and I am so glad that you are interested in eating healthy! Thanks for your great question and for visiting our website.

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

Suzy Staywell

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