Carrageenan is a controversial food additive. While many advocates for its use, there are also others who discourage it. Here are some facts about this seaweed extract that can help you make an informed decision regarding including it in your diet or not.
What Carrageenan Is
What is Carrageenan? You have probably heard this word before but never really understood it. Carrageenan is actually taken from red seaweed which is also known as Irish Moss. Carrageenan is known for its other names which include Irish Moss Algae, Irish Moss Extract, Red Marine Algae, Carragenano, Galgarine, and Carrageenin among others. It is usually used as a food additive because of its ability to preserve both food and beverages. Common sources of Carrageenan are:
- Cottage cheese
- Almond milk
- Vegan cheese
- Dairy alternatives
- Ice cream
- Different kinds of milk (chocolate, hemp, soy, rice, coconut)
- Deli meat
Apart from preserving food and beverages, this red seaweed extract is used to a thickener and an emulsifier.
The reason why Carrageenan became so popular is that of some conditions and diseases that it supposedly treats. Among them are the following:
- Intestinal problems
- Peptic ulcers
- Discomfort around the anus
- Swelling and inflammation
It can also be used as a laxative, a medication stabilizer, toothpaste, and even an ingredient in weight loss.
Some Points to Consider
One has to understand that there are only a few literatures available that support the benefits Carrageenan offers. Most are wary about encouraging the use of this food additive because of the possible side effects it causes. These include:
- Colon cancer
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Glucose intolerance
- Chronic cholecystitis
- Gastrointestinal ulcer
- Digestive system damage
- Lowers blood pressure
Given its many possible side effects, this is the main reason why many doctors and nutritionists are wary about encouraging the use of Carrageenan.
This is where it goes even worse for this food additive. Just recently, the National Organic Standards Board decided to remove Carrageenan from their approved list. This means any product with Carrageenan for its ingredient can no longer be labeled as “USDA Organic.” It is important to note, however, that Carrageenan asan ingredient in products is still approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
There is a silver lining for Carrageenan despite so many negative literature that seem to paint it as a harmful substance. Some studies would support the following benefits that this extract offers:
- It can neutralizes free radicals in the body due to the chemicals it emits. Free radicals cause a plethora of diseases including Parkinson’s disease, age-related diseases, and diabetes among others).
- It has the ability to reduce cholesterol. This the reason why there are studies devoted to identify if there is a link between Carrageenan and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
- It improves gut health. This seems to counter the claim that Carrageenan may cause gastrointestinal ulcers since its prebiotic effect can keep harmful bacteria at bay while protecting intestinal lining from possible alcohol-induced corrosion.
- It is low fat, low-sodium, and low sugar which means it is a healthy food additive alternative.
- It is perfect for those who observe a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
- Some literature have shown a link between the use of Carrageenan and treatment for flu and the common cold. This is due to the extract’s potential antiviral properties.
Keep in mind that these benefits are still continuously being researched and refined. It would be best not to self-medicate. Consult your doctor or a trusted nutritionist before you add Carrageenan to your current diet.
Carrageenan is not suitable to take in conjunction with the following types of medication:
- Medication for high blood pressure such as Vasotec, Diovan, Lasix, and many others. This is because Carrageenan is already known to lower blood pressure. If you take it in conjunction with said medication, blood pressure might become too low that it will pose life-threatening side effects to the person taking it.
- Drugs taken by mouth. This is because Carrageenan has a thick gel texture so if you take any medication by mouth, the extract can stick to the drug, making it less effective.
- Anticoagulant or Antiplatelet drugs. Carrageenan is known to slow down blood clotting. You might go overboard if you take this food additive with anti-blood clotting medication.
Now that you know what is Carrageenan and you still want to continue its use despite potential side effects, how much you should take will really depend on a lot of factors: weight, age, health and dietary concerns, and so on. To determine the right amount of extract that would be safe for you to ingest, it would be best to consult your doctor or a nutritionist. The dangers of self-medicating cannot be emphasized enough. To guarantee your safety, seek the opinion of experts about this matter.
While this red seaweed extract remains to be a controversial food additive, it is essential for you to know what is Carrageenan for you to make an informed choice. Now you have to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Seeking the advice of your doctor or a trusted nutritionist can also help you decide whether including Carrageenan in your diet is worth the risk.