This week I am looking into a natural food additive called carrageenan. Never heard of it? Well, it is worth looking out for. It is known to aggravate typical IBS symptoms, like bloating, difficult digestion and diarrhoea.
So what is carrageenan?
Carrageenan (or E407) is a natural carbohydrate extracted from red seaweed. The food industry uses it in processed foods for its gelling, thickening and stabilising properties.
What’s so bad about it?
You would think that a natural food additive would be better than a synthetic one (well I did anyway).
However, I was extremely surprised to learn in a recent French television documentary that this natural food additive has inflammatory properties. Not good news if you already have IBS symptoms like difficult digestion or diarrhea!
Several US studies have confirmed this. This study from 2001 already found harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.
When I switched to dairy-free products I came across this food additive – especially in soya milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. However, it is in fact used in many other industrial products too.
Carrageenan and diarrhoea
If diarrhoea is one of your main IBS symptoms, read on.
A study in 2014 concluded that low doses of the food additive were not harmful, but led to diarrhoea.
I also recommend this report by the Cornucopia Institute, called How a “Natural” Food Additive is Making Us Sick. Dr. Joanne Tobacman, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine states the following:
“Carrageenan exposure clearly causes inflammation; the amount of carrageenan in food products is sufficient to cause inflammation; degraded carrageenan and food-grade carrageenan are both harmful.”
The same report concludes that “Many individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms (ranging from mild “belly bloat,” to irritable bowel syndrome, to severe inflammatory bowel disease) have noticed that eliminating carrageenan from the diet leads to profound improvements in their gastrointestinal health”.
In the US, the legislation of the use of this additive in food products is under review. However this is not yet the case in Europe.
So how can you avoid this additive?
1) Keep calm and experiment
Information like this can make us more anxious about food. And as IBS sufferers we already have a difficult relationship with our diet.
So do keep this information in perspective.
Occasional carrageenan may not make a great deal of difference to you. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the potential accumulative effect of carrageenan consumption on an already fragile digestive system.
It could be worth avoiding this additive, and seeing if that has a positive impact on your IBS symptoms. This additive marked as carrageenan, or as E407 in the ingredients list on products.
2) Make your own dairy-free milk
Another option is to make your own dairy-free almond, cashew or coconut milk.
That way you can control what goes in it.
Here’s the recipe. It’s actually easier than you think!2