Do you sometimes get a little overwhelmed trying to weed through the piles of conflicting nutrition recommendations that seem to lose favour as quickly as they gained it? Just when you get on board with no high fructose corn syrup, the news comes down that sugar is sugar and the agave nectar you were feeling so virtuous about is like heroine coursing through your veins. You cut out red meat to save your arteries and find out there’s no better source of iron and that’s why you couldn’t drag yourself off the sofa if the house was on fire. Etc Etc. You gave up dairy to cut the fat, then you added it back in for the calcium and probiotics and now… this.
According to Wikipedia, carrageenans are “a family of linear sulphated polysaccharides that are extracted from red seaweeds. They are widely used in the food industry, for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties”. Well that sounds delicious, no? Basically, carrageenan is a synthetic additive derived from algae that reacts with proteins and does an excellent job of thickening and binding foods like yogurt, ice cream and processed meats. Something else it apparently does an excellent job of? Creating high amounts of inflammation in the body. Booooooo. Inflammation is of course a major buzzword in the health world these days as more and more research shows it to be the necessary precursor and possibly even cause of most major illness including the biggies: heart disease and cancer. Past studies on carrageenan differentiated “degraded” carrageenan from so-called higher quality carrageenan that is processed in a different way. But more recent studies have called that categorizing into question. Here’s what Dr. Weil had to say:
About ten years ago “a prominent researcher in the field, Joanne K. Tobacman, M.D., now associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, conducted studies linking undegraded carrageenan – the type that is widely used in foods – with malignancies and other stomach problems. Over the years Dr. Tobacman has published 18 peer-reviewed studies that address the biological effects of carrageenan and is convinced that it is harmful to human health. In April 2012, she addressed the National Organic Standards Board on this issue and urged reconsideration of the use of carrageenan in organic foods.” In fact, according to Dr. Tobacman, “in the past, drug investigators actually used carrageenan to cause inflammation in tissues in order to test the anti-inflammatory properties of new drugs.” And it doesn’t appear to take a whole lot of carrageenan to start the inflammation process. “When laboratory mice are exposed to low concentrations of carrageenan for 18 days, they develop “profound” glucose intolerance and impaired insulin action, both of which can lead to diabetes”. (Source)
Ok, so now that we know this, the ingredient has been quickly whisked off our shelves, right? Oh, you… so funny with the comedy. According to the Organic Consumers Organization, “At a May 2012 meeting, the National Organics Standards Board carried out their legally mandated …review of carrageenan, and, despite disturbing evidence that this synthetic ingredient causes digestive problems and cancer, decided to allow it in organics for another 5 years”. So, as always with new information, change will clearly take time and consumer demand will push that change along. In the meantime, while you’re reading those labels looking for sugar and saturated fat, consider adding carrageenan to your hit list, but be warned, the sneaky stuff is everywhere… beer, toothpaste, diet pop, veggie dogs, pet food and soy milk. Wine, is it in wine?? ‘Cause Mommy needs a beverage.