FOOD MAKES ME CRAZY…Carageenan Woes

Carageenan added

Many Silk  products have carageenan

Every time you turn around there is new chatter about this, that, or the other thing being bad for you.  The most recent thing to come to my attention is carageenan, a common food additive. If you pay attention to labels, which for years I did not, you will see it here or there.  I remember wondering what it was, doing a quick google search, finding it to be a seaweed product, and left it at that.

Sometimes I get so darn overwhelmed, and I just don’t want to have to *think so hard* about putting something in my cart and bringing it home.  I don’t want to be an Earth Momma making everything from scratch, but the more I learn about the food in the stores, the more I realize that I need to, for the sake of my family’s health.

A lot of foods have carageenan, including “plant milks” like almond/soy/coconut milk.  Carageenan, a seaweed product used as a thickening agent,  is considered by many to be inflammatory, causing gastric discomfort, and ultimately, a carcinogen at worst.  It is approved for use in organic food too.

I guess like everything else, even if it’s organic…read the labels.  This is too bad because I really like the SILK brand dark chocolate almond milk.  I have not experienced discomfort from drinking it, but who knows what it is doing?
This stuff gets crazier and crazier…all we’ll be left with to drink is water, fresh veggie/fruit juice, and green tea, LOL  (actually that’s not so bad, I guess…)  You can make your own almond milk if you feel up to it.
Here are a few links to info I have found about carageenan in foods, and lastly recipes for making your own almond milk and rice milk. It sounds easy enough.
Ultimately we must realize that food manufacturers, even “organic” companies (which often are owned by or have significant shares held by “mainstream” food companies) are in business for one thing, and one thing only: to make money. They are not interested in our health, they are not interested in the good of mankind, despite what they say or how genuine they were when they started out.  Profits are the most important thing to them.
As for organic and vegan items – again, manufacturers smell a profit…it is a market to corner…and they will do what they can to break into that market and make a profit off the people who want organic and/or vegan products, regardless of whether it’s really “good for you” or not.
Bottom line: anything you buy in the store, already made for you to consume,  is suspect.  More and more, if we want healthy food, we need to make it ourselves…not open a box.
Photo Credit: Silk product photo by TheImpulsiveBuy
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7 thoughts on “FOOD MAKES ME CRAZY…Carageenan Woes

  1. I read that too – one of the articles I linked mentioned that the dairy industry spoke out against it. I suspect it is mainly because of the competition they were getting from alternative milk products like soy milk, almond milk, etc. I would be curious to see how many of the mainstream dairy products like yogurt and cheese have carageenan in them. I know Stonyfield Farms defends its use – Stonyfield is mostly all dairy I think – organic yogurt, cheese, milk….

  2. When I was a little kid we brought margarine from Illinois home to WI because you could not buy yellow margarine. Oleomargarine (?) or my grandparents and mother called it Oleo, was sold with a little packet of food coloring in Wisconsin, until sometime in the 1960s. My mother was from Chicago and my father grew up on dairy farms. My mother thought margarine was healthier than butter. So we had a freezer full of yellow margarine in the basement and we joked about smuggling Illinois margarine into WI. The dairy industry is important to WI. I was suspicious of their concern with carageenan. I think of seaweed as healthy.

  3. LOL that’s funny about the margarine. I remember my mom trying to convert my dad to margarine but it never worked. I too figured the concern from the dairy industry over carageenan was definitely more to do with the competition than anything else….but the concern about it sounds legitimate. Since it is used in yogurt and ice cream, I think it is certainly disingenuous and rather hypocritical of the dairy industry to object to it in almond or soy milk lol

  4. Dr. Harris J. Bixler ScD says:

    SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHS
    CONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGE

    Q. What is Carrageenan??

    A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?
    A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

    Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?
    A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.
    Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?
    A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.
    Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?
    A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

    Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?
    A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.
    Summary
    Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.
    Closing Remarks
    The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.

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