With more and more products being produced for the health food (including the gluten free) market, we see the novel use of more and more food additives. Many of these additives are used to add texture, thicken, or change the mouth feel of foods so that they can better mimic their gluten containing counter parts.
One of the more commonly used thickening and gelling agents comes from a form of seaweed. This additive is known as Carrageenan. The food filler has been used in the U.S. on a mass scale since the 1930’s. It is extracted from seaweed using a chemical known as potassium hydroxide. Carrageenan is used in a variety of different processed foods. The following is a short list of some of the more common ones:
Common Foods With Added Carrageenan
- Baked goods
- Baby formulas
- Ice cream
- Low fat dairy products
- Coffee creamers
- Sour cream
- Juice Drinks
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Salad dressings and other processed sauces
- Diet Sodas
- Processed meats
- Jams and Jellies
- Filler for medications
- …and yes even pet foods
Should You Eat Foods with Carrageenan?
The short answer in my humble opinion is NO. Even though this additive is on the U.S. GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list, there have been a number of studies showing that this seaweed extract can cause gastrointestinal inflammation. Why is that a problem for those on a gluten free diet? Typically going gluten free is just a start on the right track to recovering health. In my clinical experience, those with years of gluten induced inflammatory damage are more susceptible to processed foods causing persistent health issues. Carrageenan based products causing gastrointestinal symptoms are common in my clinic. Consider the following information:
- Carrageenan is hard to break down and digest. Adding foods like this to an already inflamed GI tract can slow down the healing process dramatically. In my experience, this is one of the most common problems I see in patients who are failing to respond to a gluten free diet.
- Carrageenan can be absorbed into the bloodstream – especially those suffering with intestinal permeability (Leaky Gut). Once this happens, the immune system can trigger an attack. I commonly see patients who have allergic responses to carrageenan.
- Carrageenan can interact with you gut bacteria and promote inflammation.
- The FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives concluded the following – This quote is taken directly from the white paper – “based on the information available, it is inadvisable to use carrageenan or processed eucheuma seaweed in infant formulas”.
Answer This Question Honestly…
Does buying highly processed foods that need to be thickened with a highly processed seaweed extract contribute to good health? Honestly, you are far better off eating real food. The FDA has a long history of approving additives and chemicals that are known to contribute to poor health.
- Hydrogenated oils
- Glyphosate (roundup)…
If your goal is good health, and not just functional illness, this thickener is better left on the shelf.
Always looking out for you,
Additional Resources on Carrageenan and the inflammation link can be found below: