by Elizabeth May, RDN, LDN

Carrageenan has been in our food supply for decades now and is one of the most hotly debated food additives, but why?

What is it?

Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed, mostly imported from Indonesia. The red seaweed is dried and processed into a fine powder where either an acid (“degraded” carrageenan, not used for food) or an alkaline substance (“food grade” carrageenan).

 

What does it do?

Carrageenan acts as a thickener, emulsifier, and preservative. When carrageenan is removed from a product, manufacturers normally replace it with a mixture of gums such as guar gum and xanthan gum.

 

Where can I find it? According to the Cornucopia Institute, carrageenan is found in:

Chocolate milk

Ice cream

Sour cream

Cottage cheese

“Squeezable” yogurt

Soymilk

Almond milk

Hemp milk

Coconut milk

Soy desserts

Soy pudding

Sliced turkey

Prepared chicken

Nutritional drinks

Canned soup

Broth

Microwaveable dinners

Frozen pizza

 

What’s all the hype surrounding carrageenan?

Carrageenan is considering safe by the FDA , WHO, and European Commission. However, many organizations and individuals including Food Babe, Cornucopia Institute, National Organic Standard Board (appeals to USDA), and many other professionals, point to studies that have linked this food additive to inflammation, digestive disease risk, and cancer. In 1970, 5,000 tons of red seaweed were harvested for carrageenan production. Today, more than 200,000 tons are harvested for the global use of carrageenan. Some blame this increase in carrageenan use to the subsequent rise of digestive issues and IBD in children.

 

What does the research say?

Research regarding carrageenan is mixed.

According to Jessica Levings, MA, RDN, writing for the Food and Nutrition Magazine, “Recent research findings published in the journal Food and Toxicology and funded by the industry-backed International Food Additives Council indicate that carrageenan does not cross the intestinal epithelium — a barrier that keeps out the bad stuff and lets in good stuff — and does not cause intestinal inflammation. The findings may seem biased to some, since the study was funded by the food industry — this alone, however shouldn’t indicate bias. The food industry has a vested interest in only using ingredients that are safe for its consumers”.

However, just this year, a review from the Frontiers in Pediatrics, concludes that “animal studies consistently report that carrageenan and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) induce histopathological features that are typical of IBD while altering the microbiome, disrupting the intestinal epithelial barrier, inhibiting proteins that provide protection against microorganisms, and stimulating the elaboration of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Similar trials directly assessing the influence of carrageenan and CMC in humans are of course unethical to conduct, but recent studies of human epithelial cells and the human microbiome support the findings from animal studies. ” The review did state that carrageenan and CMC are unlikely to be the only environmental trigger to IBD.

 

Conclusion:

There is no known safety level of carrageenan so it is best to consume in moderation, if at all. More research is needed. We recommend to read ingredient lists and buy whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish, as much as possible.

What are your thoughts on carrageenan? Do you think it should continue to be a GRAS food additive?

 

References:
http://www.foodandnutrition.org/Stone-Soup/November-2016/Should-You-Be-Concerned-About-Carrageenan-in-Your-Food/
http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070113p16.shtml
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/12/504558025/carrageenan-backlash-why-food-firms-are-ousting-a-popular-additive
https://www.cornucopia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CarageenanReport-2016.pdf
Research Studies:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691516302265
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5410598/
|

Looking to implement a corporate wellness nutrition program?

Corporate Wellness Nutrition by Family Food is the longest-standing, most awarded program in your region with published outcome data.

CLIENT TESTIMONIALS

JEANETTE

I had a great 1st visit with the nutritionist. I went to get tips on changing by diet, but got much more. I was able to set a physical activity and nutrition goal. The nutritionist was knowledgeable and helpful.

I am so grateful for the stellar support and advice provided by Meghan, the dietitian I'm working with. She is both knowledgeable and kind, and it's a deeply productive journey. Thank you."

MICHELLE

Consulting with a Family Food nutritionist is turning out to be helpful in my effort to live healthy. The consultations are a way of having a sense of accountability and I get helpful feedback on my dietary decisions.

STAN

Great nutrition experts who inspire you! I am happy with the nutrition specialists at Family Food. They make me excited about nutrition, answer all my questions, and provide excellent recommendations! Thank you!!

AS

Very professional experience. I felt she listened to my needs and adjusted to personalize my nutrition needs.

L

My initial appointment was helpful - helped me consider new ways of addressing some problem areas for me and helped set attainable, concrete goals.

CHARLOTTE

Insightful and Informative. She was very attentive and helpful. She gave excellent tips on what to do and eat to meet my goal weight.

TRACEY-ANN

I feel confident about the changes we made to my goals and look forward to implementing them into my everyday routine. The health adviser was very helpful and didn't make me feel shameful for not meeting all my previous goals.

ERICA

I highly recommend Family Food. The nutritionist, Erika is helpful and provides great information and positive feedback.

KELSHA

I had an excellent experience with the representative from Family Food. She really read into what I was telling her and offered excellent advice that I am already able to implement after one visit. She also helped to make the best use of the hour long session. Very good time management!

AB

I met with a dietician for the first time and I had an idea of what to expect but I find this to be an invaluable resource because I have already received great ideas of things to use for meal planning and I also received more information of how to read nutrition labels. I am looking forward to my next appointment.

SHANA

I really enjoyed my first session with Christine. She provided me with a lot of solid information on issues I was not aware of and positive reinforcement for behaviors I have already engaged in. I outlined specific goals I would like to work on with her guidance and she gave me some initial steps to start. I found what she had to say respectful of the space I am in and cognizant of obstacles to making lifestyle and lifelong changes.

LYNN

I walked in without any specific questions/concerns, and my counseling was well-guided and ended up helping me see specific small changes that I can make to keep me on-track with my nutrition goals. Solutions fit my lifestyle and were not cookie-cutter, which is fantastic. I was able to start making improvements immediately. Thank you!

KAYLEY

I am finding the sessions helpful and a good way to talk through improving habits and making better food choices.

ANDREA

I am very happy this program exists. It has been very helpful and informative. My deitition is very nice and intelligent I am happy to have her help and support.

ATTANYA

The Family Food blog

The most reliable evidence-based nutrition information on child and adult nutrition.

Gain access to a personal Registered Dietitian today.

We accept most Health Insurance plans

TWEETS BY @FAMILYFOODLLC

PINTEREST

GET OUR APP