For “Foodie Friday”:
Carrageenan: A Food Additive That’s Not as Safe As You Think March 17, 2012 By Jonathan Bechtel 60 Comments
“If you look towards the back of the ingredients list on many processed foods you’ll frequently see an ingredient called carrageenan. Like lots of other confusing sounding food-stuffs, most people blithely consume it daily without a scintilla of awareness about what it actually is or whether or not it’s good for you.
Overall carrageenan is (mostly) harmless, but it has a variety of troublesome side effects that shouldn’t go unnoticed, most notably high correlations to colon cancer, inflammation, and a depressed immune system.
What Is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a polysaccharide that’s derived from red seaweed. On a molecular level it’s actually very similar to plastic and is popular for that reason. It bends easily but snaps back into place, which makes it a useful additive to foods, gels, and foams.
It’s long been used to improve the texture of food, and the earliest reported uses of red seaweed to improve a food’s characteristics dates back to 600 BC in China. It began to be used commercially in the west starting in the 1930′s, and about 80% of the world’s red seaweed is harvested in the Philippines.
Carrageenan is cheap, fairly docile, and easy to crank out. So it’s used in a lot things. You’ll often see it in milk products to improve viscosity, especially plant milks since they don’t have any cream. Its others uses include but are not limited to:
- gummy products
- dairy products/plant milks
- shoe polish
- shaving cream
And the list goes on. You’ll often see carrageenan used in conjunction with agar, guar gum, or xantham gum.
Carrageenan is grown commercially in southeast Asia
So Is Carrageenan Bad For You?
Carrageenan has always gotten a free pass from the health community. It’s frequently used as a vegan alternative to gelatin and recently herbivores have come to its defense because dairy companies have been framing it as a “weird additive” in its milk commercials.
Andy Bellatti recently wrote an article defending carrageenan as an additive, and most health/eco-oriented pundits seem to condone it since it’s often used in products they otherwise deem worthy…..most notably plant milks.
However, I think most of these people are suffering from the fallacy of mood affiliation. Carrageenan helps make foods they like more palatable, and therefore they defend carrageenan as well.
I believe this sense of affiliation is incorrect.
Why, you ask?
Because carrageenan has a long and notable history of significant correlations to different types of cancer and acute-inflammatory responses which are not good for you, to say the least.
Whenever I write a summary article like this one of my first tasks is to type in the subject line into Google scholar to see what studies come up.
When I did this for carrageenan I was surprised to see that the most relevant, cited papers had little to do with carrageenan as a food additive, but instead focused on its ability to induce acute inflammation in rats. Here’s the page I saw:
After digging a little deeper into the literature I was surprised to find that by far the most notable aspect of carrageenan in medical research is its clockwork like ability to induce oedema and other inflammatory responses in rats. They’ve been doing it in labs for more than 40 years.
Carrageenan ingested in large amounts promotes inflation in two ways: it depresses the activity of macrophages (big immune cells that act like garbage collectors) and induces the creation of histamine, Cox-2 and prostaglandins, all inflammation inducing compounds.
Regular ingestion of carrageenan also has a high correlation to different sorts of gastrointestinal cancers in rats. Most of the research done on the carrageenan/cancer relationship has been done in southeast Asia, and thus is not as well publicized as other harmful food additives like MSG.
However, the trail of research on this issue is long, and pretty consistent. Carrageenan (particularly the “degraded” kind) regularly induces carcinogenesis, neoplasia, and intestinal lesions. Ouch!
By far the most impressive research in this issue was carried out by a professor named Kazuo Wakabayashi, who’s centered in Japan (I believe).
I won’t bore you and write The Unabbreviated Scholarly Review on Carrageenan and Carcinogenesis, but let me point out two relevant studies for you to chew on:
- A clinical study conducted by Wakabayashi found that rodents were fed daily with a 5% carrageenan aqueous solution had a 100% incidence rate of colon metaplasis after 15 months.
- As far as I know there have been no clinical studies conducted on humans, but they have been performed on mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice and they all show a connection between carrageenan and colon cancer. Food for thought.
So Is Carrageenan Safe?
Throughout most of the world carrageenan has been deemed “generally safe.” And in modest quantities it is, just like most other additives you consume in processed food.
However, I’m a bit miffed at the lack of attention its received for its potentially harmful side effects. The health community typically likes to throw stones at any and all preservatives added by the industrial process, and are quick to point out any harmful correlations that have been brought up in medical research. For example, the correlation between MSG and obesity has received a lot of scrutiny. So I’m not sure why carrageenan gets a free pass. It shouldn’t.” From: http://blog.healthkismet.com/carrageenan-cancer-health-inflammation
Can Carrageenan Cause Cancer?
“Carrageenan is a common food additive that comes from red seaweed also known as Irish Moss or Chondrus Crispus. Carrageen has long been used as a thickener and emulsifier in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese and other processed food products, including soy milk.
However, results of a study published in October 2001 suggest that carrageenan may not be as safe as once thought. Findings from animal studies and a review of the scientific literature showed that degraded forms of carrageenan can cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
The researcher who made the connection between carrageenan and cancer, Joanne Tobacman, an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, noted that as long ago as 1972 the FDA determined that there was enough evidence from animal studies to limit the type of carrageenan that could be used in foods. However, in 1979, the FDA rescinded its proposed limitation and since then, no action has been taken.” From: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA44833
Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms, Foods and Products With Carrageenan
What Is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a food additive. It is an indigestible polysaccharide extracted from red algae (seaweed), added to foods as a gelling agent or emulsifier (a substance that helps to mix fluids together). On the food labels, carrageenan may be listed as carrageenan (E407 in Europe) or Processed Eucheuma Seaweed or PES (E407a in Europe).
FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has declared undegraded or food-grade carrageenan as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) to use as a food additive (1). In some animal studies, degraded (chemically changed) carrageenan has caused gastrointestinal ulcers and cancers. Some investigators think that during the digestion process undegraded carrageenan may become partly degraded, so its GRAS status should be reconsidered (2). Cancerogenic (cancer-forming) or ulcerative effect of carrageenan on the human intestine has not been proven so far, though.
Some people experience abdominal cramps after ingesting carrageenan, but this is more likely due to carrageenan allergy than ulcers.
Symptoms of Carrageenan Allergy
Sensitive individuals may develop one or more of the following symptoms within few minutes after getting into contact (ingesting, inhaling, skin contact) with carrageenan (3,4):
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal cramps
- Skin itch (pruritus)
- Hives (urticaria): pinkish bumpy or patchy skin rash
- Dyshydrotic eczema (chronic recurring translucent blisters on palms and soles)
- Difficulty breathing
Severe immune response may trigger the release of substances that dilate vessels and thus cause a drop in blood pressure and resulting impaired perfusion of skin and brain. Symptoms of anaphylactic reaction include:
- Pale or bluish skin (cyanosis)
- Confusion or loss of consciousness
List of Foods With Carrageenan
Examples of foods that may contain carrageenan:
- Dairy products: chocolate milk, eggnog, condensed milk, evaporated (canned) milk, milk powder, cheeses (such as cottage cheese, cream cheese), yogurts, spreads, whipping cream substitutes, puddings, whey
- Dried nuts and seeds, nut spreads, almond milk
- Fat spreads and fat-based desserts
- Custard (frozen)
- Sherbets, sorbets, ice creams
- Dessert gels, fruit jellies
- Processed fruits, jams, pie filling
- Dried mushrooms, seaweeds
- Soybean products, such as soy milk
- Canned vegetables, legumes, fruits, meats and fish
- Pimento olive stuffing
- Processed meats, edible sausage casings
- Confectionery: chocolate
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Pre-cooked pasta, soups
- Rice pudding, rice cake, tapioca pudding
- Processed egg products
- Vinegars, mustards, sauces (like barbecue), salad dressings, relishes and other condiments
- Dietetic foods for weight loss
- Infant formulas
- Dietary supplements
- Non-alcoholic drinks: energy and sport drinks, syrups
- Alcoholic drinks: apple cider, perry (from fermented pears), mead, beer, distilled beverages, aromatized alcoholic drinks
Other Products Containing Carrageenan
- Pills and syrups (like cough syrup)
- Air freshener gels
- Cosmetic products
- Dog foods and other pet foods
- Paints (water-based)
- Shoe polish”
Shopping Guide to Avoiding Organic Foods with Carrageenan
Research links the controversial food ingredient carrageenan to serious gastrointestinal inflammation and colon cancer.
Yet it is still found in many foods, including some certified organic foods.
At the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board meeting in May 2012, Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine and the nation’s foremost independent expert on carrageenan, presented her research and urged the NOSB to remove carrageenan from organic foods.
If you suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms that improved or disappeared after cutting carrageenan from your diet, fill out a questionnaire to help us and medical researchers better understand the effects of carrageenan on public health.
Always check ingredient lists carefully, and note that ingredients are not required by law to be listed on alcoholic beverages, which may contain carrageenan. In fact, carrageenan is commonly used to clarify beer but is not listed on the label.
If you come across organic products and/or brands utilizing Carrageenan that are not yet listed, please forward specific information to us by emailing email@example.com
On This Day:
Spaniards capture Baton Rouge, Sep 21, 1779:
“On this day in 1779, the Louisiana governor and Spanish military officer Bernardo de Galvez, with the aide of American troops and militia volunteers, captures the British post and garrison at Baton Rouge, located in what was then British-controlled West Florida.
In a cunning and brilliant move, de Galvez included in the terms of the British surrender of Baton Rouge that the British also surrender Fort Panmure at Natchez to Spanish control. Defeated and on the verge of utter annihilation, the British had no other choice but to accept the terms.
The Spanish capture of Baton Rouge and Fort Panmure ended British control of the Mississippi Valley and opened the Mississippi River to a Spanish supply line—running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Ohio Valley--that greatly benefited the American cause. De Galvez was then able to lay siege to the British-occupied city of Pensacola, Florida, in the spring of 1781, which ended in a British surrender on May 8.
Spain never officially signed an alliance with the American revolutionaries, as King Charles III was hesitant about the precedent he might be setting by encouraging the population of another empire to overthrow their monarch. However, Spain also wanted to regain Gibraltar in the Mediterranean from the British and solidify control of its North American holdings, so it allied itself to France in the international war against Britain. Spain regained West Florida during the fighting and East Florida, which it exchanged for the Bahamas, in the final peace. Though Gibraltar remained in British control, Spain also won all the land surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Great New England Hurricane, Sep 21, 1938:
“Without warning, a powerful Category 3 hurricane slams into Long Island and southern New England, causing 600 deaths and devastating coastal cities and towns. Also called the Long Island Express, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the most destructive storm to strike the region in the 20th century.
The officially unnamed hurricane was born out a tropical cyclone that developed in the eastern Atlantic on September 10, 1938, near the Cape Verde Islands. Six days later, the captain of a Brazilian freighter sighted the storm northeast of Puerto Rico and radioed a warning to the U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service). It was expected that the storm would make landfall in south Florida, and hurricane-experienced coastal citizens stocked up on supplies and boarded up their homes. On September 19, however, the storm suddenly changed direction and began moving north, parallel to the eastern seaboard.
Charlie Pierce, a junior forecaster in the U.S. Weather Bureau, was sure that the hurricane was heading for the Northeast, but the chief forecaster overruled him. It had been well over a century since New England had been hit by a substantial hurricane, and few believed it could happen again. Hurricanes rarely persist after encountering the cold waters of the North Atlantic. However, this hurricane was moving north at an unusually rapid pace--more than 60 mph--and was following a track over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. By the time the U.S. Weather Bureau learned that the Category 3 storm was on a collision course with Long Island on the afternoon of September 21, it was too late for a warning.
All told, 700 people were killed by the hurricane, 600 of them in Long Island and southern New England. Some 700 people were injured. Nearly 9,000 homes and buildings were destroyed, and 15,000 damaged. Nearly 3,000 ships were sunk or wrecked. Power lines were downed across the region, causing widespread blackouts and fires. Innumerable trees were felled, and 12 new inlets were created on Long Island. Railroads were destroyed and farms were obliterated. Total damages were $306 million, which equals $18 billion in today's dollars.”
This post about Carrageenan came about because I had bought some ‘healthy’ creamer, only to find out that it contained Carrageenan. I am better off using real half-and-half than consuming that. As you can read above, some people have food allergies, but really they are allergic to the carrageenan in them. So many bad things are sneaked into our food these days.
Ray and I spent all morning trying to find out why the part of the TV cable wouldn't work. It worked at one end of the house, but not the other. We went around with a little TV set, checking it at each junction, until we found the offending one. Maybe the coax cable got old, but it is run where it cannot be replaced. In the end, we ran another length of coax cable a different route, temporarily. To install it properly, we will have to drill some holes, and fish it down to the boxes on the walls.
I am still working on getting the set of dishes packed to go to their buyer in Alaska. Each dish is now packed in bubble wrap. They all fit perfectly in one box, but I could see that it bulged a bit where the largest plates are. One hit on the side could smash them. Then I found another box 2” larger all around than the first one, and put the packed box in there. Now, I have to find my stash of styrofoam peanuts to pack in between the boxes. Hopefully, I can get it to the Post Office today.