Let’s talk seaweed for a minute. My advice to nutrition newbies is to always read their labels and eat real food. But what if you just aren’t sure if that ingredient is real? I mean isn’t corn starch real and what exactly is carrageenan? Well, let me introduce you to this little ingredient…

Yes, carrageenan is completely real and natural. It is extracted from a particular type of red seaweed common in the Atlantic Ocean. The seaweed is boiled to extract what is called carrageenan.  It has no nutritional value and it is used primarily as a thickener and emulsifier.

Many food manufacturers, including organic food companies, are adding carrageenan to their products. If you are reading labels, I am sure you have seen that most processed food often contain substances known as gums, otherwise known as gelatin, corn starch, carrageenan, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, locust bean gum, agar, etc. Why? Because processed food needs to travel long distances and live on your shelf or in your refrigerator for a long time.

The role of these gums in processed food is to:

Thicken: They thicken the foods you expect to stay thick: ice cream, marshmallow fluff, pancake syrup
Emulsify: They help liquids to stay mixed without separating
Change the Texture: They can make something thicker or chewier
Stabilize Crystals: They might help sugar or ice from crystalizing

Why should you care?

The Cornucopia Institute has initiated a nationwide campaign urging the FDA to remove carrageenan from the food supply. Dr. Joanne Tobacman, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago, has been researching carrageenan and has published 18 peer-reviewed studies. She is convinced that it is harmful to human health, causing because they it can be causing inflammation, gut irritation and even cancer.
There are still plenty of foods that do not contain carrageenan and they’re sold at all major grocery stores. Take a look at his extensive list, you will find everything from carrageenan-free kefir to cheese to ice cream.

My advice is still to read labels and eat real food. Carrageenan doesn’t make the Real Food List, so avoid it. Please. Ask questions and be a real advocate for yourself and your health.

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