Ask EN

August 2017 Issue

Carageenan Safety and Paleo Food Certification

Q: Should I avoid carrageenan in my diet?

A:Carageenan, derived from edible seaweed, is used extensively as a food additive because of its properties as a thickener and emulsifier. It is used to add creaminess to products, like ice cream, yogurt, and soymilk. Because carrageenan has no nutritional value, it can be added to a food to enhance the mouthfeel without calories, which is of particular interest to people who are on calorie-controlled diets. In fact, at one time it was added to a popular fast food hamburger to add juiciness and stability to the meat mixture, although it has since been removed. The FDA considers it a safe additive, even for baby formula, although such use is banned in Europe. There is concern, however, that carrageenan may induce or exacerbate inflammation, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, glucose intolerance, colon cancer, and food allergies. Attempts to support this through scientific study have been limited. Research supporting negative effects have mostly been conducted on animal tissue and have not been replicated in humans. The bottom line is that carrageenan is found mostly in processed foods, so if you limit consumption there should be little concern.

—Sharon Salomon, MS, RD

Q: What does “paleo” labeling on food products mean?

A: The trendy Paleolithic “paleo” diet is based on the concept of eating like our caveman ancestors by consuming foods similar to those available in pre-agricultural days. Meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are included, while grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, salt, and processed foods are avoided. Advocates of the diet claim that this eating style will help consumers be leaner and less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. Nutrition experts raise concerns, suggesting that there is insufficient research-backed support for the health claims surrounding the diet. And avoidance of dairy, legumes, and whole grains may have unintended health consequences, considering these foods provide many health benefits according to hundreds of studies.

Because of the popularity of the paleo diet, more foods are being marketed as paleo-friendly. However, there is no standard regulation on which foods are allowed to be labeled as “paleo.” Though privately run organizations offering paleo food certification have emerged, they are not regulated and follow their own food criteria, focusing primarily on marketing.

—Kaley Todd, MS, RDN