What is a caveman to do – carrageenan and beyond?
I jumped on the Paleo/Primal lifestyle band wagon several months ago and have seen some wonderful results and I am certain more are to follow. If any of you are like me some things come pretty easily and others are more of a struggle. One of the things I deal with is trying to identify those things that are or are not on my plan. A portion of that struggle is to identify those things that matter most. I am not independently wealthy so I sometimes have to make tough choices. One of the factors that makes these choices tough is the never ending quest for quality information. There is a ton of information available with the stroke of a couple keys on your computer. However, like many topics where authors are passionate about what they believe conjecture, speculation, fallacious assumptions and marketing often obscure the truth. I am a science based guy. I love peer reviewed and journaled presentation of scientific data. This form of good scientific validation though is largely lacking in the Primal/Paleo world.
My effort in this article is to try and address four of the common food additives most of us ingest on a daily basis. Many times we do this without even realizing it. I will also try to keep it short and simple. Not something I am well known for.
Carrageenan – this wonderful little product is found in almost everything…well a lot of things. Basically it serves as an emulsifier. This means it keeps things in suspension. At the end of the day carrageenan is seaweed. What is found in food is simply ground up seaweed. SInce the early 80’s one doctor, Dr. Tobacman, has made it her crusade to have this product removed from our food source based on flawed research. Much of it conducted by the same research team. In a fairly extensive and well documented report the FDA definitively cleared carrageenan for human consumption. Does this make it right for you? Maybe not, however, the chance you are going to have life threatening or health consequences by consuming it are pretty slim. Risk – very low.
Guar gum – this little beauty is found in a ton of things. It has also been demonized by the alternative health community. Guar gum is used in food products as an emulsifier, stabilizer, and thickener. The amount authorized by the FDA is typically less than 2% and usually .5% or less. It is derived from a legume. So technically it is not Paleo/Primal. Many of the products it is used in are not on the Paleo/Primal plan anyway. Those that may come up such as almond milk and the like are again probably not going to shorten your life span or detract from your quality of life. Interestingly enough the FDA did ban the use of guar gum in diet aids in 1991 due to unexpected fatalities, along with 111 other ingredients. To be honest the directions are written on the box for a reason. This product does its job very well. Maybe they should have drank the water it said to when consuming vast quantities of guar gum. Just to clarify the amount taken in by the average person daily is way below this amount. Risk – very low.
Soy lecithin – another popular little additive. This product, when listed as such, is derived from soy. We all know how “bad” soy is so I will let you make your own determination here. If you like chocolate though you may be out of luck as this is one of the most effective and widely used emulsifiers. It is generally considered the amount of soy protein found in a product with the ingredient soy lecithin is not even significant enough to cause a reaction in a highly sensitized individual. This does not mean it can’t happen it is simply not that likely. Now interestingly enough not all lecithin is soy derived. Lecithin can be derived from multiple sources and organic lecithin is also an ingredient in many products. So read your labels carefully if this is a problem for you. Risk – low.
Xanthan gum – this little beauty is also found in numerous products. Many of which though are not on a Paleo/Primal nutrition plan so happy days. This particular goodie is used as a thickening agent in things such as salad dressing and that lovely cheat called ice cream. Not that I would know what that is anymore. Xanthan gum is derived by the fermentation of several sugars. In layman terms it is bacterial excretion. Very pleasant sounding right? In many cases the source of these sugars is from corn, soy or wheat. While the constituent concentration in most cases is less than 1% in the final product it is advised that individuals with significant allergies to these foods should avoid products made with xanthan gum. Risk – low.
So I have tried to distill the information on these particular food additives into palatable information. It is time for you to make your own choices. It is difficult to live in the world we know and avoid all the potential toxins around us. I can’t do it on my budget so I have to make smart, educated choices. I always try to keep perspective as well and ask the question does it fit the 80/20 rule? There are too many things out of my control on a daily basis like the toxins I breathe by running in the city to get wrapped around the axel about a small bit of carrageenan in my almond milk. These are things you have to decide for yourself though.
I hope this information is beneficial in your quest for a perfect nutrition plan for you. I obviously have not covered every single facet available on these four products. I have tried to distill it to the most relevant information so you can make a sound and educated decision. If you have information you would like to discuss or share with the group post them to comments and I will try and address them.
Thanks for reading! See you in the box!