Primalisms: Carrageenan, BPA, Milk & More

July 14, 2012

(Photo by [ jRa7 ])

1) Shopping Guide to Avoiding Organic Foods with Carrageenan

“Carrageenan, a seaweed derivative used as a stabilizer and thickener in foods, has been found to be contaminated with a substance (degraded carrageenan) that is classified by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as a ‘possible human carcinogen.’”

2) Widespread Exposure to BPA Substitute Is Occurring from Cash Register Receipts, Other Paper

3) Superbug Dangers in Chicken Linked to 8 Million At-Risk Women

“A growing number of medical researchers say more than 8 million women are at risk of difficult-to-treat bladder infections because superbugs – resistant to antibiotics and growing in chickens – are being transmitted to humans in the form of E. coli.”

4) Toronto Hospital is First to Recognize Symptoms from Wireless Radiation

5) At Camp, It’s Not Grub, It’s Cuisine

6) Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?

“As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List. At first, the list was largely made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread. Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.”

7) Obesity vaccine takes a step forward (*facepalm*)

8) Ditch the energy drinks and eat a banana

9) Spray Tanning May Cause Cancer, Too — Ask for a Nose Filter

10) Dear F.D.A.: Stop Drugging Animals

“One letter to the F.D.A. came from a group of chefs (270 or so; a lot of signatories), organized by the Health Group of the Pew Charitable Trusts, The James Beard Foundation, Chefs Collaborative and chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Suzanne Goin. Published below, it’s strong and smart, and it’s a good sign”

11) The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner

12) Got Milk? You Don’t Need It

Leave a Comment


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Harris J. Bixler ScD November 28, 2012 at 7:59 AM


Q. What is Carrageenan??

A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.

Q. Why the controversy?

A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.

Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?

A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?

A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.

Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?

A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.

Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?

A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?

A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.

Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.

Closing Remarks
The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.


[email protected] November 28, 2012 at 1:27 PM

I would say we’re in an era where people/organizations like you try to confuse consumers into consuming unnecessary and harmful additives, all in the name of profit. I and others like me will continue to do our best to eat clean, whole foods and not support companies that use such additives.


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