Carrageenan is water-soluble fiber that is obtained from the red seaweed. It is known to form a gel. Thus, it adds texture and gives the much-needed ‘mouth-feel’ for some foods. Thus, it is mainly used as a stabilizer or thickener in various processed foods such as soy milk, cream cheese, whipping cream, cereals, bakery products, sauces, snack foods, and salad dressings.
It gets its name from the seaweed, which grows along the coast of Ireland near a small village known as Carragheen. However, most of the carrageen you will find in processed foods comes from Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Its use was approved in 1961 in the US. Over the years, it has been considered safe. However, there are several people who argue that consumption of carrageenan is quite dangerous based on the different studies.
Is it dangerous to consume?
In the recent years, several questions have been asked about carrageenan. Most of these questions touch on its nutritional value and whether it is safe for human consumption. For instance, some studies have revealed large amounts of carrageen in intestines. For instance, degraded carrageen has been found to cause intestinal damage in rodents and primates.
However, you should note that degraded carrageen is not the same as undegraded carrageen that is used in food processing. Degraded carrageenan is also known as poligeenan and it is quite different from undegraded one. In fact, they even have very different properties. This explains why it is not used in food processing.
Some people believe that eating certain foods, which contain carrageenan can make them have digestive problems. The past study on this showed that carrageenan causes inflammation in guinea pigs and not any other animal species. In fact, food-grade carrageenan does not cause any particular damage to the intestinal walls. Moreover, it does not break down during digestion or processing to poligeenan.
There is a need to monitor substances that are used in food processing. Various national and international organizations involved in carrageenan science have evaluated carrageenan and its use in infant formula. In fact, they have not found any reasons for concern.
Possible health benefits
In the past, seaweed was boiled and the extract used in soothing the digestive system, used as a laxative, and to treat ulcers. Even consuming carrageenan that is found in red algae can be quite beneficial to one’s health. There are pending studies to reveal whether they affect the human immune system.…