Manufacturers can add “carrageenan” to products such as yogurt, milk and ice cream to give foods a denser, creamier texture. It has also been added as a remedy for low fat products and dairy substitutes such as soy and coconut milk to avoid natural separation of ingredients during storage.
Carrageenan is a natural ingredient derived from red algae. According to Prevention, carrageenan “appears to be particularly damaging to the digestive system by triggering an immune response similar to that occurring in the body when attacked by pathogens such as salmonella”.
Research suggests that carrageenan causes inflammation, is carcinogenic and is associated with diabetes, malignant tumors, fetal toxicity, birth defects, polyps and ulcerative colitis. Joanne Tobacman, a medical doctor from the University of Illinois School of Medicine, has linked carrageenan to gastrointestinal cancer in experimental animals.
Concerns over the safety of carrageenan were first raised in the 1960s, and for decades activists have been working to banish carrageenan from the FDA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list.
Cornucopia is currently conducting a signature collection in a petition to ban carrageenan. However, the seaweed-derived carrageenan business is an industry worth $ 250 million, and corporate-sponsored research to prove that the ingredient is safe is continuing.
Apart from its use in dairy products, carrageenan is also known as a common ingredient in infant formula, delicatessen, vegan gelatin capsules, frozen foods, chocolate, tofu, soups, broths and nutritional drinks. It has also been found in hygiene products including toothpaste.
Carrageenan is used in conventional medicine to treat everything from coughing to bowel problems. The acid form known to relieve pain and swelling is reported to be commonly used as fiber and for the treatment of peptic ulcers.
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