Cautious health care providers have warned patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, notably ulcerative colitis (UC), to avoid food products with carrageenan.
Now, we have more reason to advise patients to avoid this popular food additive.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study, 12 UC patients were instructed to follow a carrageenan-free diet for one year. Five of the 12 participants were randomly assigned to take 200 mg worth of carrageenan filled capsules whereas the remaining seven people took dextrose filled placebo capsules.
The average estimated intake of carrageenan in the Western diet is 250 mg per day.
Here’s a list of foods participants were instructed to avoid on the no-carrageenan diet:
- almond milk
- bakery products with glazes, frostings
- canned fish, meats
- chocolate milk mixes/powders
- condensed milk
- evaporated milk powders
- cottage cheese
- dietetic beverages
- deli meat
- gelled fruit snacks
- ice cream, frozen custard and other frozen desserts
- infant formulas
- liquid coffee whitener
- maple syrups
- meal replacements
- nutritional drinks
- pie filling
- processed meats, fish or cheese
- ricotta cheese
- soy milks
- whipped cream (canned)
At the end of the study, three of the five people who took carrageenan capsules relapsed, but none of the people who received dextrose did.
Relapses were defined as an increase of two or more points on the Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index, a scoring system for disease activity, in combination with an increase in UC medical treatment as determined by the participant’s physician.
Inflammatory markers, including calprotectin and interleukin-6, increased in the carrageenan group suggesting a real difference in disease activity took place between the two groups.
Lots of researchers and health care providers, myself included, suspect that modern food additives are linked to poor gut health and chronic inflammatory diseases.
I recognize this is a small study, but it’s reason enough for me to continue to discourage my patients from consuming foods with carrageenan and other unrecognizable food additives.
In my clinical experience, the best dietary patterns for inflammatory bowel disease are full of a variety of whole foods, not highly processed food-like substances.
This isn’t to say we should feel guilty about grabbing a baked good now and again or using a splash of creamer in our coffee, but these treats should be saved for special occasions. Eat whole foods first and foremost.
Here are a few popular food items that contain carrageenan:
Water, Sugar, Vegetable Oil (High Oleic Soybean and/or High Oleic Canola), and Less than 2% of Sodium Caseinate (a Milk Derivative), Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Cellulose Gel, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan
Turkey breast, water, modified cornstarch, contains less than 2% of sodium lactate, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, carrageenan, natural flavor, sodium diacetate, potassium chloride, sodium ascorbate, sodium nitrite, caramel color
Almond base (water, almonds), dried cane syrup, potassium citrate, sea salt, carrageenan, riboflavin (B2), Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2