Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Carrageenan: Another food enemy?

Every day I'm learning about some other poison or hazard in our food.

It's very annoying and very overwhelming.

I find myself longing for the days when I was much more clueless and I wasn't so overwhelmed with the whole GMO, organic, processed food, etc. issue. Not to mention my own personal sensitivities to gluten, almonds, dairy and artificial sweeteners.

Oh the good ol' days when I could just grab a slice of pizza on the go and not think twice.

Anyway, so I've been going along merrily on my gluten-dairy-almond-artificial sweetener-free, mostly organic journey and now I've learned of a new thing I've gotta worry about.


Have you heard of it?

It's in all kind of "organic" products including most soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, flax milk, cheese alternatives, non-dairy frozen desserts, many Applegate cold cuts and much more. You can see a complete list here.  In short, almost everything I've used to cut out the dairy or use as substitutes contain carrageenan.

ugh. always something

So what is it?

Carrageenan is an additive that is used primarily as a thickener.  According to Healthkismit:
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.
The problem?

Well if you begin to dig it could be linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and colon cancer!!

But wait. It's organic! It's in all those vegan foods! How can this be?

Now even after cutting out all of those foods that I'm sensitive to, I'm still often experiencing tummy aches. Can it be the carrageenan in my organic soy milk that I use every morning? I'm not sure. But as of right now I'm going to try to eliminate that too. An article I read recommends that if you suffer from IBS or gastric distress you should experiment with cutting it out for two weeks.

Will it ever end? Soon I'll be just consuming air and water.

According to Cornucopia Institute:
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.
Oy vey. The carrageenan lobbyists teamed up with some of our favorite organic companies and fought back hard so in many of our favorite brands they remain. If you google this ingredient you'll find all kinds of research worth considering.

Have you ever heard of this ingredient!? Thoughts?


PS: so out of curiosity - I found a few more interesting reads - here's another from The Charis Holistic Center out of Los Angeles that leans towards it being something to avoid.

Here is another interesting read from the Organic Consumers Association where you can read about Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley responses. They are not concerned with risks.


Haven said...

I was vegan for about 6 years, vegetarian for 19 total.

Carageenan is a thickener, plain and simple. The "like plastic" is meant to scare you as a bias for the piece you read. It works like gelatin except it's a vegetarian source. Make sure that article isn't sponsored by a pro-"meat" organization.

Moderate use, and the relatively microscopic amounts, you probably consume daily, probably pose almost zero risk. If you over-consume any product it's going to be deleterious to your health. Most studies, in order to determine, the awful side effects they warn against, inject lab animals with super concentrated doses over an extended period of time. That would probably cause cancer in anything.

Unknown said...

Thanks Haven, Will that's reassuring. While I'm not vegan or even vegetarian, I am gravitating to a more plant-based way of eating, and have eliminated most dairy. Having to eliminate stuff like soy milk or coconut ice cream, would suck.

I will look into who sponsored the research. Just trying to eat healthy and my head starts to spin with all this stuff!!

I will still experiment with replacing my soy milk to see if it changes my GI issues, since I do have IBS, just about everything upsets my tummy.

Unknown said...

Yes! Ignorance is bliss - somedays i just wanna say "f it all" pick up some fast food and a carton of cigarettes and chuck the whole living healthy thing out the window.

But I'm an adult. and a mom. so i won't do that. I'll just whine on my blog instead. pout.

Daphne @ Daphne Alive said...

Wow, thanks for the information. Definetely something to research. I tend to blindly buy organic because it's marketed as.. well "perfect" food. I must do more research!

Unknown said...

Daphne, after reading Haven's comment it did get me to thinking that I need to investigate it more before getting too upset - but the most important lesson here is to try to know what you're eating. Organic or not.

I am going to avoid carrageenan for a bit to see if it makes a diff with digestion (found WestSoy soy milk last night that doesn't use it) and see.

I'll keep looking into this ingredient. Knowledge is power.

Erica Gorman said...

I can't say I can worry too much about carageenan and yes, I have heard about it years ago in my marine biology courses. It is the seaweed version of gelatin and if I had my choice of carageenan vs. animal based gelatins, I will go for carageenan.

In in pure form, I would say no worries but I don't know if anyone is farming the algae and causing it to be "contaminated" but I have to say, we each have our own sensitivities. I go by the everything in moderation and focus on what works for your body.

Again, years ago I had a rash problem on my hand and was told it was because I was eating animal-based products (think red meat, etc.). I went vegetarian and it cured up, with a treatment for staph too. However, since then I have reintroduced some meat into my diet but have had no rash issues.

It is really confusing.....and good luck!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment, Mom.

I would think that you and Haven are probably right about the 'moderation' thing with this ingredient. I've discussed it with a few of my veggie /vegan friends and no one seems too concerned about it.

But ugh! Always something trying to drive me nuts!! :-)

*~*~* Tracy said...

I never heard of it before. It's kind of a catchy name though. Maybe someone famous will name their child Carageenan? :D

Haven makes some good points, and you're right that it's so hard to find unbiased findings.

Good luck with your tummy trouble. I hope you find the culprit so you have some relief.

George Sauvain said...

Oh, I think you’ve found the Weston A. Price foundation. They are a registered lobbying organization for the meat and dairy industry. The amount of misinformation and propaganda put out by those quacks is astounding.
If you’re looking for solid research on nutrition, I recommend nutritionfacts.org. Check it out if you have time. Good luck!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link George - I will check it out.

I just wonder why there's so many reports out there - and many of them point to this ingredient in lots of conventional, regular dairy foods as well (chocolate milk, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc) and foods like regular hot dogs and deli meats-- why would meat and dairy try to debunk this ingredient if they are using them too?

George Sauvain said...

The Weston A. Price foundation receives support from RAW dairy farmers and producers along with the Tea Party. They are often sourced by other organizations in an attempt to legitimize radical concepts promoting excessive consumption of eggs, meat and dairy.
I believe whole and unprocessed foods are always the best choice. However, they have taken this good idea and twisted it like a pretzel for the sole purpose of pushing animal products on unsuspecting consumers. They orchestrate misinformation campaigns in the same way the tobacco industry did for so many years.
By the way, Weston A. Price was a Dentist who published a book on nutrition in 1939 based on his observations of periodontal disease in primitive cultures. Quackwatch.org has an entire section dedicated to him: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/holisticdent.html

Unknown said...

Thanks George - this is a plethora of information and i appreciate you posting all this!! I will check it all out. Damn. It truly takes a community to keep properly informed. So much misinformation and propaganda to weed through!!

TheMomOfTwins (Zainab) said...

I never heard of it, but thanks for sharing.
I also have a running question....shall I email?

Unknown said...

Sure mom - send me an email! Thanks for dropping by :)

Sara said...

Yes, I have heard of it and my doctor also says to avoid it.

I keep saying if someone would just make a pill with exactly what we need and nothing that we don't, well, doesn't that just seem like the way to go now?!

I'm on a wheat-gluten-chicken-soy-nut-banana-avocado-free diet right now so I appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing and hang in there! I know exactly how you feel!