Carrageenan has been a cooking staple in Britain for hundreds of years, and it’s long been a popular food additive in the United States. Many argue that carrageenan is a safe, vegan alternative to animal-based thickeners like gelatin. The food industry uses it to add density to a number of food items, including soy and almond milk, jelly, pudding, cottage cheese, ice cream and even infant formula. The problem? Some studies are beginning to show that the additive may not be as safe as previously believed.
The food additive carrageenan is found in soy and almond milk, jelly, pudding, cottage cheese, ice cream and even infant formula. Despite its common use, it may also increase the risk of diabetes and cause both gastrointestinal and systemic inflammation. Should you avoid carrageenan? Let’s find out.
Keep Reading to Learn Whether or Not You Should Avoid Carrageenan.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is an extract from Irish moss, an edible red seaweed that grows in the British Isles. When used in cooking, it has properties similar to gelatin, which allow it to work as a thickener and gelling agent. Over recent decades, a debate has arisen over the possibility that carrageenan can cause inflammatory responses in the body, which may lead to certain health issues.
Increased Diabetes Risk
Research on mice has shown carrageenan consumption can raise fasting blood glucose levels, delay the lowering of those levels and lead to glucose intolerance and the onset of diabetes. In addition to effects on blood sugar, carrageenan can increase levels of lipids in the blood, leading to high cholesterol. The effects of the moss are more profound when part of a high-fat diet.
Some studies suggest carrageenan can cause intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms, possibly leading to cancer. The additive may become even more dangerous when subjected to stomach acid or intestinal bacteria during normal digestion. The Food and Drug Administration contemplated its restriction, but after reviewing conflicting reports deemed it safe for human use.
Scientists regularly inject carrageenan into the footpads of mice to create local inflammatory responses, which they then use to experiment on the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory agents. One study found those injections caused systemic inflammatory responses. The mice suffered from elevated inflammatory markers, changes in blood clotting factors, and notable lung inflammation.
Check Food Labels
Because carrageenan is in too many foods to list, you’ll need to check labels carefully if you want to avoid it. It may be worth eliminating if you’ve been dealing with unexplained inflammation, especially if your symptoms also involve the lungs. More research is needed to determine the severity of carrageenan’s effects throughout the body. Until studies are able to uncover more information, consider limiting foods that contain this potentially harmful additive.
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