Monday, November 11, 2013

Carrageenan May Be Pro-Inflammatory, but it’s Not Entirely Clear….

Almond Milk Ingredient Label

The past few months I have been bombarded with people asking me for my thoughts about carrageenan, because they have heard it is a very controversial food additive that is found thousands of food products. Chances are, especially if you choose to avoid dairy, you are consuming many products that contain carrageenan.

Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed using alkalis or acid to remove it from the main source. It is added to many foods such as cheeses, almond milks, ice creams, jelly’s, and other products that would typically separate if not for this additive. Controversy has arisen due to research done on lab animals that links carrageenan to gastrointestinal diseases, inflammation, and cancer. In 2008, a study showed that “food grade” carrageenan broke down in the G.I tract and caused inflammation, which caused one of the study authors to make a petition to the FDA to ban the substance. As of April 2013, the FDA feeling on the matter is as follows:

“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.”

Basically, the level of carrageenan breakdown in the body is still up for debate, and there is not strong evidence suggesting that it causes damaging inflammation in humans. There have not been enough studies done on humans to determine the level of breakdown, and the impact consuming other foods at the same time as carrageenan has on metabolism and inflammation.

My Recommendation: As with most of these additives, I always advise being aware of the ingredients in your foods, and trying to limit the amount foods you consume with lots of additives. I, personally, do not go out of my way to avoid carrageenan. It is typically present in low amounts in the foods it is found in, and the level of harm has not been fully established. However, if you are prone to stomach and G.I issues, it may be wise to limit the amount of carrageenan-containing food products you eat. I would rather people eat mostly whole and natural foods anyway, so then you avoid carrageenan naturally. Food additives such as thickeners and stabilizers are added to many things, but especially to foods trying to act as something else (like gluten-free breads and non-dairy yogurts). Since carrageenen and other thickeners are added to many faux-dairy products, try to choose natural low-fat dairy if you are able, or at least non-dairy foods that have no additives like Stonyfield’s O’Soy soy-based yogurt. I am a fan of almond milk for the vitamin E (see my post) and calcium, but most brands do contain carrageenan. However, my favorite Almond Milk (Trader Joe's Unsweetened Vanilla) does not!

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