Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Side of Plastic with Your Meal, Sir?

Screenshot courtesy ChaCha

My sister used to eat the plastic rings around slices of bologna. I rarely even ate the bologna itself, yet I'm the one that ends up with Crohn's Disease. Not that I wish my sister had Crohn's instead of me, I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

At the time we didn't realize that the bright red ring around bologna was plastic, so it wasn't like she was eating plastic intentionally. I mean, why would individual slices of sandwich meat have small strings of plastic on them? Was there even a warning on the package? Probably not. Thanks FDA!

That may seem okay to you, most people knew that those red rings were plastic, so they probably didn't eat them. But did you know that the FDA allows plastic-like ingredients in the foods you consume?

You've probably never heard of carrageenan before, but if you read the label on your bacon, ice cream, almond milk, or even baby formula, you'll probably find it there. If you type "carrageenan" into Google and search, likely the first thing you will see is telling you that the FDA says it's safe. My feelings towards the FDA are not that great to begin with.

What is carrageenan though? Basically, it's a product extracted from red seaweed to be used in the food industry as a thickener or stabilizer. You're thinking, "oh, it's just seaweed, people eat seaweed." That may have been my first thought as well, until I looked into it a little further.
Seaweed Salad
Carrageenan really only got my attention when I saw it listed as something off-limits during the Whole 30. Being that I am concerned about what I put into my body, I had heard of carrageenan before, but only in passing. I had seen in a couple of lists of food additives to avoid, but didn't look into it until I was doing the Whole 30. It's then that I found out that the food industry likes it because of its molecular similarities to plastic. Now that's just the beginning of it sounding sketchy.

So, they want to feed us things that are similar to plastic? Huh, so I dig into it a little more. It does take a little bit of effort to find out more about carrageenan because the first things you'll find are articles and website where the FDA is saying it's safe and it's fine to consume in moderation just like anything else. Then you'll start to see that some big brands have removed it from their products because of the controversy surrounding it.

If it's just seaweed and the FDA says it's safe, why is there any controversy over it?
When performing a Google search, the website often shows you "similar searches" near the bottom of the page. It was during one of my searches to find out more about carrageenan that I saw a "similar search" for "carrageenan crohn's disease." Being that I have Crohn's Disease, my interest was peaked. It's then that I discover that this food additive that our government is telling us is safe is used to induce Crohn's and Colitis in laboratory animals. (A little more info from a recent study)

Why would anyone choose to eat this? I'm certain it's worth noting that one of the food companies that uses carrageenan is Abbott Nutrition, makers of dietary supplements like Ensure (often used by individuals with digestive problems in order to get essential vitamins that their bodies have a hard time absorbing). If you have Crohn's or IBD the name Abbott probably sounds familiar. That's because they are also the maker of one of the top medications used to treat these diseases, Humira. Is it starting to smell like fish in here to anyone else? It really does start to look like some sort of conspiracy going on here. Do they want to keep us sick so we have to keep paying for their expensive medications? We could give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they trust the FDA and believe carrageenan to be safe. For me, there's too much evidence that says otherwise, I'm not willing to take the chance.

What can we do about it?
Read labels, read labels, read labels! As I stated near the beginning of this post, carrageenan is often found in packaged meats and dairy products, it's also in some bread and pastry items. Here is a page from a Crohn's forum that lists some supplements and medications that contain carrageenan. This is a good blog post on avoiding carrageenan.

If there's a product that you love that happens to have carrageenan in its ingredients, find out how to contact the manufacturer and let them know (in a kind way) that you will no longer be able to consume their product as long as they use carrageenan. Chances are they've already received feedback like this and the more they receive the more likely they will be to find alternative, safer ingredients.

More references:
Dr. Hoffman: Addressing IBD
Carrageenan and Unmanageable Digestive Problems (this one is easy to read)
Does Carrageenan Worsen Crohn's?


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