Carrageenan – What’s The Big Deal?

You may have heard of carrageenan, it’s that secret ingredient being sneaked into your food by evil food corporations… Or is it?

Not exactly. In fact, there’s nothing secret about carrageenan at all. If it’s in an item of food, it will be there on the ingredients label. Plus, there’s no highly technical process behind it – you could make it in your kitchen if you wanted to. Boil some seaweed in a non-acidic broth, dry it, strain it through a coffee filter and finally mill it into a fine IOTA powder. Nothing secret about that.

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Plus, it is absolutely fine to eat. Government and food safety authorities around the world say so themselves. Contrary to what you may have read or been told, it can’t cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and it certainly can’t cause cancer. It has even been approved for consumption by infants and new-borns, in the ultimate vote of confidence from the FAO.

So, why are there people claiming that it is unsafe?

This largely stems from a misunderstanding, which has given carrageenan an undeserved reputation for many years. A similar product, poligeenan, has been proven to have adverse health effects. However, the difference between the two is that poligeenan is boiled in an extremely acidic bath which renders it unsafe for human consumption. Putting any item of food through that process would make it unsafe.

Poligeenan is never, under any circumstances, used in the US food industry. There are regulations in place to ensure that it is not found in food.

More confusion comes from Dr Joanne Tobacman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has carried out extensive research for decades into carrageenan’s safety, however her findings have been repeatedly dismissed by food safety authorities for a range of reasons.

From using poligeenan instead of carrageenan, to using inappropriate concentrations and delivery methods, her findings have been heavily flawed and as such do not carry much weight in the eyes of food science leaders.

It is worth noting that Dr Tobacman was lobbying for the banning of carrageenan years before any research was conducted into the matter, with no evidence to support her claims. Therefore her research has surely been conducted with the intention of finding it to be unsafe, in a biased manner.

If we were to let flawed science get in the way of what we eat, there would be very few foods that we’d still be able to eat. Carrageenan keeps meats moist and dairy products creamy, while the preservative properties also help to reduce food wastage, tackling a significant product that our society is faced with.

Next time you hear about the supposedly deadly effects of carrageenan, be sure to correct and reassure them of the truth. Don’t let rumors overrule sound science.