Avoid this “safe” ingredient

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is supposed to be protecting our food supply.

But the sad truth is that it does very little to monitor what chemicals go into your food. And even when there’s science to prove the health risks of new ingredients, they drag their feet. It can take years… or even decades… before they pull harmful additives from the market.

When a processor wants to add a new chemical to food, the FDA doesn’t require any testing. The food company just sends a notice to the FDA. The notice says that the ingredient is “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS.

In other words, the food industry tells the FDA what’s safe instead of the other way around.

It allows untested and unsafe ingredients on the market. And once they’re on the market they usually just stay there…

The FDA rarely yanks GRAS status. And sadly, it usually only happens when people get sick die. For example, it happened with partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. They were considered safe for years. But in 2013 the FDA withdrew their GRAS status after they were linked to serious heart disease.

And yet the FDA still permits trans fats at low levels in your food.

Artificial food colorings are another example. At least six of them were considered GRAS for years and later banned by the FDA. Two others — Red No. 3 and caramel coloring used in colas — have been found to cause cancer in animals. But the FDA still has them listed as GRAS.

There’s another GRAS ingredient I want to talk to you about today. It’s widely used in food products in the U.S. even though it’s banned in the European Union.

This common food additive is extracted from red seaweed (Chondrus crispus). It’s sometimes called Irish moss.

Carrageenan has no nutritional value. It’s used as a thickener and emulsifier. Food companies add it to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk, almond milk, chicken stock, deli meats and other processed foods.

There are two forms of carrageenan — degraded and food grade. In animal studies, the degraded form has been proven to cause tumors. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.1

But food grade carrageenan isn’t much better. Tests show that the food grade type also contains some of the degraded form — in some cases as much as 25%.

And the food grade version can become degraded. When you eat food-grade carrageenan, it can break down and become degraded in the gastrointestinal tract.2 It also becomes degraded with exposure to heat, bacteria and mechanical processing.

Even the food grade version has been shown to cause inflammation and colon cancer in animals.3 It causes the same kind of inflammation that is the root cause of many serious diseases. I’m talking about heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cancer. In fact, drug researchers use carrageenan to CAUSE inflammation in their studies.

We need much more research on carrageenan and other food additives. But the FDA is not acting fast enough.

Here are two simple steps I recommend to make sure you stay safe.

1. Get back to basics. Our primal ancestors ate what they could hunt and gather. That was natural meats and eggs, veggies, unmodified fruits and nuts, and olives. They ate a lot more protein and fats than most Americans do today. And they ate no processed foods loaded with harmful chemicals. As a result, their archaeological records show virtually no heart disease, diabetes, cancer or obesity.

2. Read labels carefully, even for organic food. Whole, unprocessed foods are ideal but not always possible. If you ever need to grab something packaged in a can, box or plastic, check the labels first. Walk away from anything with carrageenan listed on the ingredients. That goes for “natural and artificial flavors,” or any food colorings.

And you can’t rely on an organic label to avoid carrageenan. Even some organic producers are adding it to their products as a thickener. Instead, look for safer alternatives like “organic guar gum” or “organic bean gum.”

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS


1. International Agency For Research On Cancer, Iarc Monographs On The Evaluation Of The Carcinogenic Risk Of Chemicals To Humans, Vol. 31, June 1983. Marcus R, Watt J. “Danger of carrageenan in foods.” Lancet 1981:1;338., and
2. Marcus R, Watt J. “Potential hazards of carrageenan.” Lancet 1980:1;602–603.
3. Tobacman JK. “Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments.” Environ Health Perspect 2001:109(10).

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