Do You Know Nutrition: Even organic products can contain potentially toxic ingredients

By Phylis Canion
April 8, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 7, 2014 at 11:08 p.m.

I see an ingredient on many food product labels that I can neither pronounce nor know what it is. Can you please explain what carrageenan is, how you pronounce it and how it affects our system?

Carrageenan, pronounced kar-uh-gee-nuh, is a stabilizer, thickener and filler substance derived from red seaweed. Carrageenan is one of several fat-replacing additives used in foods to cut fat.

It contains chemicals that may decrease stomach and intestinal secretions. The good news about carrageenan is that it is not absorbed into the system in the doses we are exposed to. While carrageenan is not allowed in baby food in Europe, the U.S. and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allow it in baby food, stating it allows for less fat absorption in the formulas.

Although derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system when consumed in larger amounts. It triggers an immune response similar to when your body has been invaded by pathogens like salmonella.

Consumed in large amounts, carrageenan appears to pull water into the intestine, and it's is also known to decrease pain and swelling. However, according to Dr. Joanne Tobacman, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Chicago, carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding.

What to look for on labels? Carrageenan must legally appear on a food label, even if the product is organic. While organic foods ban the use of genetically modified organisms, chemical pesticides and toxic synthetic additives, the program does allow carrageenan.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board is not set to remove it from organics for another four years.

Thought for the week: Don't take mirrors seriously; our true reflection is in the heart.

The next free nutrition class in Victoria is 7 p.m. April 14 at the Organic Emporium. The next class in Cuero is 6 p.m. April 17 at the Cuero Wellness Center.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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