Published: 06/11/2008 - Updated: 03/20/2019
Many processed foods we consume contain a number of elements and chemicals to, even though they have been stored for a long time, reach the consumer in perfect condition, and have good texture, good color, and do not lose their appeal.
These chemicals added to most processed food products are quite often gums, among which we highlight now carrageen.
The carrageenan is a rubber that is extracted from red algae of the family Rhodophycaeae, in the genera of Chrondus, Gigartina, Eucheuma, Hypnea e Iridaea. The harvesting of this alga is done at low tide, between spring and autumn, and comes from the coasts of several countries including France, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Peru among others.
This type of seaweed was used in ancient times because of its unique property of gel milk. Bleached lichen was used to prepare a gel of milk known as "blanc-mange", whose translation would be "white food".
Extraction process for the carrageenan production is based on two of the properties of the alga: its solubility in water and its insolubility in polar organic solvents.
After a process of washing, crushing and filtering, you get a syrup that contains carrageenan solution. This liquid is subjected to another process that ends with a collection of a fine powder granular or, tasteless and odorless, white to beige.
In commercial products, these powders are frequently diluted with sugars for standardization purposes, and mixed with salt for food use of gelling and thickening characteristics.
Carrageenan and Cancer
Several studies have found that this food additive called carrageenan, widely used at present, causes cancer in laboratory animals. And therefore, should be reconsidered use in food for humans.
Although studies have been conducted only in animals, "there is sufficient evidence on the effects of cancer-causing carrageen to limit the use of food additive," said researcher Joanne K. Tobacman Health Care, University of Iowa in Iowa City.
This food additive, as explained before, is an extract of red algae, and is used in various foods such as dairy products and processed and canned meat in sausages and thickening, stabilizing and texturing. Also found in products like ice cream, whipped cream, pudding and yogurt. The carrageenan is mainly used in meat products because it provides a better bonding effect of water, improves the appearance and the ability to slice, in addition to improving its performance. In its dual role, it allows us to optimize the quality of processed meat and its performance.
Some studies in animals by Tobacman, found that carrageenan is associated with the formation of cancerous tumors and ulcers in the intestine.
Tobacman explained in the October edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives: the intestinal cells absorb very easily carrageen, but they cannot metabolize. As the carrageenan accumulates in cells that can be destroyed, and this time the process could lead to ulceration.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed to limit the type of carrageenan in food since 1972, but "... there has been no substantive review by the FDA on the carrageenan from the studios that performed for more than 2 decades, " the researcher wrote in his report. " However, there have been more evident in relation to the activity of carrageenan to promote the cancer and subsequent confirmation of the possibility of degrading the carrageen" and adds: "People need to be informed about the potential risks associated with the consumption of carrageenan based on animal studies. "
Moreover, Á Free Trade Area of the Americas stressed in a statement "... the immediate and reciprocal elimination of tariffs on carrageenan, a stabilizing agent in food derived from seaweed…"
However, this still remains a controversial food used in many processed products, as many claim that there is no real evidence that this product causes cancer or tumors. Currently in dairy beverages, pharmaceutical products, diet products, and are now beginning to use to inject seafood. Another application is as a cover agent fruit and there is an even more innovative, the inclusion of carrageenan in the biomedical field, there are several studies that demonstrate its anticoagulant and barrier of some viruses, among others. It is the vision for the next 20 years, an opening of this additive to use a biomedical (food products that protect health).
But as always, you decide...