Following a previous tip/discussion on what to avoid when shopping or looking at the back of an ingredient list, another ingredient to watch out for is carregeenan. Most believe this ingredient is natural and safe, but in fact this is an indigestible polysaccharide (a carbohydrate containing cellulose and starch) derived from red algae plants. More importantly this ingredient is an additive in most common food, acting as an emulsifier, thickening or stabilizing agent. You will see this ingredient mainly in almond, soy or coconut milk, or other non-dairy products to give the product more consistency and as a low-fat product, more taste. It has even been found in other known edible products such as frozen dinners, ice cream, yogurt, soups, commercial products, and in certain beverages.
Carregeenan has been shown to have no nutritional value whatsoever. Worse, it can disrupt the gut leading to inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), other gut issues, and potentially lead to cancer development, especially cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.
There are two forms of carregeenan, degraded carregeenan (also known as poligeenan) and undegraded carregeenan. When seen on an ingredients list, they both appear as carregeenan. Neither of these forms provide any benefits to the human body, which both forms should be avoided as much as possible. As such, degraded carregeenan has carcinogenic properties which promote cancer at a quicker rate. In a 2001 review by J. K. Tobacman, it mentions that “Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1982 identified sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of degraded carrageenan in animals to regard it as posing a carcinogenic risk to humans, carrageenan is still used widely as a thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer in a variety of processed foods prevalent in the Western diet.” So why are we still ingesting this ingredient?
Tobacman reviewed that “… these data demonstrated that exposure to undegraded as well as to degraded carrageenan was associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms. This association may be attributed to contamination of undegraded carrageenan by components of low molecular weight, spontaneous metabolism of undegraded carrageenan by acid hydrolysis under conditions of normal digestion, or the interactions with intestinal bacteria.” Which prove to show that having this ingredient can cause serious side effects to the body.
So, what can you do to avoid this ingredient? Best thing to do, read ALL the labels. That’s really all you can do. So before buying any food product, if you are health conscious, read the labels.
To learn more about nutrition with Anthony Borsellino:
Anthony Borsellino, Ph.D.
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Tobacman, J.K., (2001), Environment Health Perspectives, Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments, 109:10, 983-994.