You may have heard of the additive known as carrageenan, but you may not be aware of what it is used for. Some people are concerned that carrageenan can cause unwanted side effects and this raises issues when consuming it. In this article, we are going to look at what carrageenan is as well as which foods you can expect to find it in. We will also be looking at what possible side effects you might experience from taking the additive.
What Is Carrageenan?
As we mentioned in the introduction, carrageenan is an additive which is used in certain types of food. This natural ingredient is taken from Irish moss which can also be referred to as red seaweed and is used for a variety of reasons in food production. The most common uses for it are as follows;
- Carrageenan can be used to thicken food substances.
- Some food manufacturers will add carrageenan to products such as chocolate milk in order to stop the product from separating.
- Carrageenan can be used in cooked meats in order to keep them tender and juicer for longer periods of time.
- It is often used in place of gelatin in vegan products.
- Some companies use carrageenan in pet foods.
- The additive is also frequently used in products other than food such as toothpaste and air freshener which comes in a gel form.
If you are unsure whether a product contains carrageenan, you can simply check the packaging, since it is mandatory that companies detail whether or not it has been used within the ingredients.
Should I Be Worried About Carrageenan?
Whilst there have been claims that Carrageenan is bad for you, this subject is still up for debate. There has been research taking place to test the theory although the results have been inconclusive with scientists still unsure as to whether there is certainty in the claims that carrageenan can cause harm.
One thing that has been proven is that once carrageenan degrades (and turns into a by product known as poligeenan) it can be extremely dangerous if consumed. The research here was proven when animals were used to test poligeenan and results demonstrated that it may be responsible for contributing to conditions such as stomach ulcers and colon cancer. That being said, no studies have been performed on human subjects and so the results may differ.
In the 1960s, carrageenan was a hot discussion topic within the scientific community and concerns around the additive degrading whilst being used in food products and therefore cause potential problems in anyone who consumed it.
The main reason behind this thought is that it is believed that when degraded carrageenan mixes with the acid present in the stomach, it can become toxic. Again, there is no evidence to 100% support this claim. It is worth noting however, that poligeenan has not been approved for human consumption and is often used in trials for anti inflammatory drugs.
In 2017, additional studies were conducted and it was suggested that even carrageenan which has not degraded may cause some unwelcome side effects.
What Are The Side Effects Of Carrageenan
There have been studies on the possible side effects of carrageenan, although these are limited and by no means, conclusive. With that in mind, it is still important to be aware of what side effects the consumption of carrageenan may cause. Some of those which have been reported as being a possibility are as follows;
- Inflammation. Particularly of the digestive system.
- Bloating, which if nothing else can cause discomfort.
- Some studies suggest that carrageenan may be a factor in problems with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which is a condition where the large intestine is affected produces symptoms such as pain, bloating, diarrhea, gas or constipation.
- There is some speculation that carrageenan may produce an intolerance to glucose.
- As we mentioned earlier on, some animal studies have shown that carrageenan may be responsible for the onset of colon cancer.
- As with glucose intolerance, it is thought that carrageenan might be a factor in some other food allergies.
- If those with inflammation have this in a more severe capacity, it can be known to increase to more serious conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis and inflammation of the gall bladder.
- Similarly, more severe inflammation may heighten the risk of contracting Irritable Bowel Disease which is a term used to refer to more serious digestive tract conditions such as colitis and stomach ulcers.
What Foods Usually Contain Carrageenan?
There are a huge range of food products which may contain carrageenan and as we discussed earlier on, manufacturers are bound to declare if it has been used. You can find this information on the label or packaging of the product.
There have been multiple protests with people insisting that the manufacturers make it even more clear whether their products contain the additive, or indeed stop its usage altogether. There are alternatives which can be used that are known to be much more safe for human consumption. Some of these are as follows;
- Guar gum
- Locust bean gum
- Gum arabic
- Xanthan gum
With this in mind, it is important to be aware that most manufacturers will still employ the use of carrageenan in their products, and some of the most common foods in which it can be found are:
- Dairy Products
- Chocolate milk
- Almond milk
- Ice cream
- Coconut milk
- Sour cream
- Children’s yogurt
- Soy milk and other soy-based dairy alternatives.
- Cottage cheese
- Sliced meats such as turkey and ham
- Deli meats
- Pre-cooked chicken
- Tinned soups
- Frozen pizza
- Microwaveable meals
So, ultimately, while there are claims that carrageenan is not good for you, and there have been studies that partially support this theory, the results are highly inconclusive.
It is important to always be mindful of the things that you are eating and this list of foods which commonly contain carrageenan is a great resource.
This is especially true for those who are suffering from the possible side effects as it can act as a way to determine whether you may be sensitive to carrageenan present in the foods you have eaten.