Organic Carrageenan? Some thoughts on food additives

A few weeks ago I did a morning show here in Portland talking about food additives and the dangers of many substances we accept and consider as “safe” even though we may not have a clue what they are.  One of these commonly used additives is a seaweed derivative that is added to non-dairy milks (almond, hemp, coconut), and ice cream to emulsify or gel the product prohibiting separation.  This substance is called carrageenan.  Because of time restraints I was only able to touch on the fact that this additive is considered a carcinogen…which got quite a scoffing from the medical professional waiting for his turn in the green room!

Carrageenan comes from seaweed – and in it’s natural state it is not harmful.  However, the extraction process to make it a commercial preparation turns it into an entirely new substance called “polygeenan.”  This altered substance is no longer a benign food additive – it’s actually very harmful especially to the intestines.  Go here to read an interesting article on the dangers of carrageenan in your diet.

Food labeling has always been a game of deciphering hidden messages.   This additive is a perfect example of why we need to create awareness around what is in our food.  We can scoff and invalidate – even ignore truth – but with the rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes going on in this country it might be worth taking a second look at that label and understanding what’s in your food.

A common argument to this by food scientists and manufacturers is that you’d have to eat a certain amount before it can be dangerous.  That may be so – but if I offered you two glasses of water, one having an “allowable amount” of a known toxin in it and the other glass with none – which would you choose?


Macaroni and cheese…but isn’t it supposed to glow in the dark?

Watching the news this morning there was a clip about on an Internet video that’s gone viral featuring two moms who are speaking out against the artificial food coloring added to a popular brand of boxed macaroni and cheese that gives it that fluorescent glow…  Good for them!  Let’s bring some attention to this subject of food additives and the abundant use of them in manufactured food items.

But did you know that there are more than 3,000 food additives — including preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients — that are added to our foods?  Most are so harmful they’re not even allowed in other countries!

Some of the most common to watch for include:

  • Preservatives: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT
  • Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners: fructose, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium
  • Artificial colors: any
  • Artificial flavors: any
  • Flavor enhancers: monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract (the product, MSG, has about 40 different names making it easy for food manufacturers to print “No MSG added” on product labels though a variation may be included.)

Yesterday on AM Northwest I gave quick spiel on the most common culprits to avoid in your diet.  Here’s a summary:

What to Avoid:

1)   Diet sodas full of fake sweeteners including;  aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose .  There are so many better choices out there now – I even saw a sparkling coconut water!  If you need something sweet – stick with fresh juice diluted with mineral water, or a beverage sweetened with stevia.

2)   High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – this by-product of the corn surplus has been linked to obesity, brain damage – even lower IQ’s!  So common in  cookies, sodas and especially condiments.  Read those labels!

3)   Vegetable oils that have been heated over and over again in the manufacturing of  chips, crackers, cereals and even “healthy” granola.  Not only does the heating process turn them into a toxic substance but most vegetable oils are also genetically-modified  (GMOs), including canola, soy, and corn oils.   Use healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee and even beef tallow for cooking.  Also include extra-virgin olive oil (evoo), hemp oil, walnut oil and cold-pressed safflower oil for cold prep like salad dressings.

4)   Carrageenan – an additive often added as an emulsifier to foods like nut milks and lunch meats, is derived from seaweed.  Carageenan itself  is not actually the problem – it’s the “processing” of it that alters it’s chemical structure turning it into a substance called “polygeenan” which can cause gastrointestinal upset and colon cancer.  Best to avoid using products that include this ingredient.

5) And finally, refined salt.  Added to just about everything these days the refining process removes the trace minerals present in sea and earth salts.  The sodium content may be the same in both refined and unrefined salts – but the  difference is in the flavor.  The intensity of sea salt often means adding much less to your foods.

The bottom line is this – if you want to avoid food additives then you need to eat fresh, whole, living foods prepared in your own kitchen where you have some control over what goes into them.  I think it’s great that these moms are bringing attention to this issue of the food color additives….but the bigger question is “why are they eating macaroni and cheese from a box anyway??”  😉