Hi friends. I figured a post about carrageenan was in order, seeing how little notoriety it seems to have, and what an impact it has had on my life.
In September 2012, I completed the Whole30, a thirty-day food regimen that cuts out gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, added sugars, and any and all food additives / preservatives. It was militant and rigorous, but the results were awesome. I found out that the migraines I’d been getting for years and years no longer existed, and upon reintroducing grains, specifically white rice, I realized that this former dietary staple of mine had been wreaking havoc on my insides. I now avoid gluten and grains pretty much entirely.
One thing I haven’t been avoiding so much is dairy. Especially on the paleo diet, I like to indulge in high-quality, organic, grass-fed dairy products when I can. Since I’m human, this also translates into low-quality dairy products when I’m out at a restaurant or at a party. I can’t have that bruschetta? Let me just eat the mozzarella balls instead, thank you very much. In doing this, I began to notice a pattern, especially when indulging in ice cream. Sometimes I could eat it and feel perfectly fine; other times I would feel downright awful the next day: flu-like symptoms, an absolutely excruciating migraine, the inability to stay awake for more than five hours. A complete waste of a day, no focus or ability to do much of anything at all.
After having this happen a few times, I began to check the ingredients in the food I’d eaten the previous day. The first time I did it, the only thing I’d eaten that I hadn’t prepared myself was ice cream. Carrageenan showed up on the ingredients list. Huh. Looked it up: a seaweed extract, used as a thickener and to “enhance flavor”. It’s made of seaweed, so it’s natural, right? Next time I felt like death, I’d eaten a chocolate mousse my mom made. Looked at the ingredients in the heavy whipping cream: carrageenan. Huh. Next time it happened … you guessed it. My buddy, carrageenan. That led me to do some research on the stuff … oh yeah, and to avoid it like the plague.
Here are some fun facts about carrageenan:
-Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.
Carrageenan is a thickening agent. It’s the vegetarian equivalent of casein, the same protein that is isolated from milk and used to thicken foods. Casein is also used to produce paints, and is the glue used to hold a label to a bottle of beer. Carrageenan is the magic ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on tarmacs during winter storms.
- In the 1940s, carrageenan, a polysaccharide made from a type of seaweed, was recognized as a dangerous allergen. Since then it has become a standard laboratory material to use to produce inflammatory tumors(granulomas), immunodeficiency, arthritis, and other inflammations. It has also become an increasingly common material in the food industry.
- Carrageenan has been used in thousands of biological experiments over several decades, because it predictably causes inflammation. Inflammation is well-known to be the basis for many human diseases and is associated with over 100 human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and arteriosclerosis, and inflammation is also linked to cancer.
- Since carrageenan is present in most dairy and dairy-replacement products (almond, soy and rice milk products), many people are convinced they have a lactose intolerance when, in fact, they are just having a bad reaction to a completely unnecessary food additive.
Even if you are in perfect health, I urge you to check the ingredients in your foods, especially things that might need “thickening”: organic milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and related products. It may just save you a headache, some digestive distress, or worse disorders in the long term. Carrageenan can even be found in toothpaste, terrifyingly enough. Here is a really helpful list of common foods that contain the C-word: