Although fish and other seafood products make delicious, healthy meals for people all over the world, many American children would not mind if they never had to eat tuna casserole again. But they would mind if suddenly there were no more cheese and chocolate milk, peanut butter and pudding, frozen desserts and fruit drinks. What could such different foods have in common? Along with hundreds of other common foods and household items, they contain the aquatic plants known as seaweed.
Many kinds of seaweed are edible and rich in vitamins and iodine. They are as common in many Asian countries as green beans and carrots are in the United States. But until more people here develop a taste for sea vegetables, it is alginates, carrageenan, and beta carotene -- seaweed derivatives that act as stabilizers, thickeners, and colorants -- that end up on our dining room tables.
The three main groups of seaweed are brown, red, and green algae, each providing ingredients for the manufacture of food and other products. Carrageenan is a generic term for compounds extracted from species of red algae. Carrageenan is used in stabilizing and selling foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products. It has been reported that these forms of degraded carrageenan that is not typically used in foods, have been linked to ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Prominent researcher Joanne K. Tobacman, M.D. conducted studies linking the undegraded carrageenan, this being the type used in foods, with malignancies and other stomach problems. Dr. Tobacman’s has published 18 peer reviewed studies that address the harmful effects of carrageenan to our health. For this reason she urged the National Organic Standards Board to reconsider the use of carrageenan in organic foods. Dr. Tobacman presented to the board her research showing that when we ingest foods containing carrageenan, it can cause inflammation. We know that inflammation is the root cause for many chronic and serious diseases. Dr. Tobacman explained to the board that drug investigators actually use carrageenan to cause inflammation in tissue to test anti-inflammatory properties of a new drug. Though Dr. Tobacman noted even more harmful effects including “profound glucose intolerance” in mice after just 18 days of a low concentration, it is still be used by organic food companies. As for me, I will be avoiding it. You really do have to read your food labels. I have found carrageenan from almond milk to meat. Keep your eye out for it!
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