Wednesday, 2 April 2014

in a nut shell......

In my last post, I shared some ice cream recipes that contained store bought almond milk.  After this post, one of my readers on instagram asked me regarding an ingredient used in almond milk called carrageenan.
I had briefly heard about this ingredient before but decided to look into it further after it came up again.
It seems that there has been a lot of concern by the health community regarding the use of carageenan, even as far as organising a petition so that the FDA remove it from the food supply.(ref)

This is what I now know about carageenan:
  • derived from red algae.
  • used as a thickener or stabilizer in dairy & non-dairy milks, cheeses, meat products.
  • 2 types: degraded and undergraded.
  • undergraded is approved for use in food, degraded is not
  • they have different chemical properties although both are often referred to as carageenan.
Let's talk about degraded carageenan or otherwise known as poligeenan.  This ingredient has been shown to cause formation of ulcers and cancerous lesions in the colon of animals.(ref)
Poligeenan is significantly more detrimental to the health of laboratory animals than carageenan but lack of clear differentiation between the two types means that most of us think that carageenan (undergraded) is as harmful.

Carageenan can still cause problems though, but unlike poligeenan which has been shown to cause cancer on it's own, carageenan has been shown to accelerate cancer formation only when in the presence of a known carcinogen.
I'm not saying that it's safe, I'm just making the distinction that unlike popular belief, on it's own, it's not a known carcinogen.

What it has shown to cause, is intestinal damage in some species of animals.  This of course means that the effects of carageenan are species specific thus makes it difficult to apply the various study findings to humans.

Two studies done on food grade carageenan found that it increased the inflammation response of isolated human intestinal epithelial tissue.(ref,ref)
Another study found that it reduced the activity of some enzymes which may have an overall negative effect on the function & vitality of the cell.(ref)
In concentrations lower than would be found in a typical diet, this study found that carageenan caused increased cell death, reduced cell proliferation and cell cycle arrest.(ref)

Whilst these studies lend support that carageenan has potential for intestinal inflammation, it's good to keep in mind that they were done in vitro (as in not inside the human body) and that the carageenan used was in the absence of food, which means that the results may vary as most of us would be getting the carageenan in our foods and that the digestion of same may alter how it affects us.
This brings me to another concern voiced by the health community, that ingested carageenan can turn into poligeenan in the digestive tract after it's been eaten, secondary to gut environment (bacteria, acidity).  Some studies have shown that 10-20% can be turned into poligeenan during digestion.(ref)
Also, whilst these studies show that it can affect human tissue, other studies show no adverse effects.

So are you confused?  I don't blame you.
It seems that no matter what, there's always a price to pay for convenience!
So what should we do?  

I guess this is up to you, I'm just highlighting some of the points that stood out for me, but I always encourage everyone to do their own research and make up their own mind, specially due to the inconclusive nature of the data, both for and against.
If you are going to avoid it, please check the label, sometimes it's also labeled as vegetable gum (407).

For me, apart from being a positive learning experience, it has also inspired me to make my own nut milk.
So I finally bought a nut milk bag (highly recommend) and my first batch was delicious!
So easy and the possibilities are endless.  I think I'll be making my own nut milk from now on!
Will have a post on some delicious nut milk very, very soon.

Peas, love and mungbeans


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