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Carrageenan: Is this Cancer-Causing Ingredient in Your Organic Food?

You probably haven’t heard of or noticed this ingredient before now, but it may be on the label of many foods in your kitchen.

clean_eating_healthy_salad-colorful_veggies_shovel_soil_dirt_garden_organic_local_picBuying organic food is a growing trend. As awareness of natural, healthy eating expands, more and more people are seeking to switch to only organic foods. But for those seeking to be healthier and avoid toxins in their food, it’s important to understand that just because a food is labeled organic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s clean and clear of some less-than-ideal ingredients. One of these ingredients, which is somewhat controversial, is carrageenan.

This ingredient is used in many foods found even in the health food stores today, but this is a problem. The heavily processed form of carrageenan used today has been shown in studies to be carcinogenic, or cancer causing. Carrageenan is primarily found in dairy and dairy substitute products, even organic options often contain it! It is also commonly found in soups, sauces, deli meats, cottage cheese, and even some flavored coconut waters!

Carrageenan is an ingredient that comes from red algae. It is added to food products to act as a stabilizer or thickening agent and to bind, emulsify, and give foods a good texture, particularly in fat-free or low-fat foods.

Inflammatory Effects

There are studies that “prove” carrageenan is harmless; however, the form of carrageenan used in these studies is different than the processed carrageenan primarily used in our food supply today. The particularly harmful form of carrageenan is called degraded carrageenan. It still originates from red algae but is processed with acid solutions and is recognized as unsafe for human consumption. Many health agencies openly acknowledge that degraded carrageenan is a known carcinogen. In fact, it’s such a strong pro-inflammatory that it is used in research labs to induce inflammatory conditions in lab animals used for research. Often, however, this degraded carrageenan is mixed in to food-grade carrageenan and then added to our food supply.

carrageenan_algae_farm_picAnother problem with this degraded and processed form of carrageenan is that it breaks down in the G.I. tract and liver into smaller parts that then act as carcinogens. These can cause serious and problematic inflammation that can lead to gastrointestinal upset, digestive issues, and cancer.

Interestingly, a report released by the Cornucopia Institute explained that even food-grade carrageenan causes problems. According to the report, studies have shown that the food grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and lead to greater rates of ulcers, intestinal lesions, and tumors.

Another report states that the unique chemical structure of carrageenan triggers an immune response that the body reacts to as if it were a dangerous invader. When this immune response happens, there is an inflammatory response that results. This is especially problematic for people who consume carrageenan-containing foods on a regular basis as this inflammation becomes prolonged and chronic, which can lead to a large number of health problems and eventually even cancer.

Unfortunately, carrageenan has also been found to exasperate existing problems, such as diabetes and ulcerative colitis. Whenever inflammation is generated, a number of negative things can be found happening or worsening in the body, as chronic and low-grade inflammation is a key player in a lot of disease and illness. So avoiding inflammatory foods such as carrageenan is a large part of staying healthy and well!

Where it’s Found

However, many of the “health” foods found at the grocery store today contain this harmful ingredient. Some top “natural” carrageenan-containing foods include nut milks like almond or coconut milk, packaged sandwich meats, organic sauces, spreads, dips, and dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, coffee creamer, non-dairy cheese alternatives, or cottage cheese.

woman_reading_label_food_grocery_store_picThe best thing you can do to try to avoid toxic and carcinogenic ingredients like carrageenan is to be proactive at reading ingredient labels. Never assume that just because a food is found at a health foods store or just because it might be labeled organic that it is absolutely clean and healthy. Take your health into your own hands and be aware of what ingredients you are putting into your body!

Make your own healthy recipes with ingredients you know!

Algae photo by StinaTano on Wikimedia Commons

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