Carrageenan refers to a collection of linearly arranged sulphated polysaccharides which are derived from edible seaweeds(specially the red ones). These are few of the widely used products in food industry today, because of its properties like stabilizing, thickening as well as gelling. The main use of these is in dairy & meat items, because of their proteins which strongly binds with food. In a common man’s language what is Carrageenan? Well you may say they’re sought of seaweeds which are edible in nature, you might find it similar to kelp and Nori !
There are 3 majorly described classifications of carrageenan, which are different only in their degrees of being sulphated. The first kind is known as “Kappa-carrageenan” consists of single sulphate group attached with every disaccharide. Second type is “Iota carrageenan” consists of two sulphates attached per disaccharide. Third type “Lambda carrageenan” consists of three sulphates attached per disaccharide.
Carrageenans are quite large & are highly flexible particles that curl in form of helical shaped structures. This provides them the ability to create a range of gels even at room temperature. They are extensively used in food & other items for thickening & stabilizing purposes. Most carrageenans are generally of large molecular weight due to polysaccharides, which are both sulfated as well as non-sulfated.
All Carrageenans are generally soluble in water(hot), but as for cold water, only one of the forms that is the lambda form is soluble. Ironically carrageenan is looked upon as one of the dietary fiber.
If you have ever purchased a “store bought almond” or maybe some “coconut milk”, you perhaps might have seen an ingredient named Carrageenan on the package (carton). Now this might make the things little more complicated, as there are two forms of Carrageenans : degraded or undegraded carrageenan. Technically, the undegraded is very much approved for it’s use in the food items, whereas degraded is not.
Where is Carrageenan Found?
You might be wondering where it’s found, when you’ll come across some labels, you’ll be amazed at quantity of products which contain carrageenan. Most of which are infant formulas, along with them many store-bought & even milk alternatives. Some creams, also dairy products too contain this potentially dangerous carrageenan.
So what’s the Problem – Is Carrageenan safe ?
The question rises mostly in all peoples mind is carrageenan safe? It is quite important to consider the fact that Carrageenans are not digestible and also they have null nutritional values. It is generally use due to its ability as a thickening and emulsifying agent in the products also it’s often used in organic as well as “natural” products. It might seem like a simple item derived from a mere seaweed, so how could it be troublesome, and I really wish it was! Inspite of being derived from some natural origin, it unfortunately works in destructive manner in the human digestive system, thereby triggering a response in your immune system, similar to when your body is under attack by bacterias like Salmonella. As a result consumer suffers from inflammation, which may lead to ulcerations & in some cases bleeding also. Experts have been warning before also and the concern with the food grade carrageenans is not new. Every now and then researchers have been linking the food-constituent along with gastro-intestinal disorders in many lab subjects(including many animals varieties), like ulcerative colitis, intestinal lesions and also colon cancer sometimes.
The Bottom Line :
Evidently it appears to be harmful in many ways. Multiple times people have reported facing negative consequences along with the effects and symptoms like troubles in digestive system, skin rashes, and many different health problems. The views on the topic are quite shaky on the fact that it’s some kind of carcinogen or not.
One possible solution to avoid carrageenan is to find a carrageenan free store form where you can buy products, you may even try to save some money with making your own products. If you have been consuming the items like store bought-almond & also coconut milk which may contain this additive, you might want to consider using some of home made recipes and try making items at least for your own personal use!