A recent report, issued by the Cornucopia Institute clearly illustrates the marry-go-round of staff and how so many questionable processed food ingredients have been deemed okay in foods labelled "organic". They're calling it the Organic Watergate and at the centre of it is one of my most despised additives: carrageenan.
Degraded carrageenan can be found in all kinds of "organic" foods (like almond milk to your soy yogurt to your dairy free ice cream) along with medical meal replacements like Ensure. I have long argued in favour of the benefit of Irish Moss- the whole and health promoting food- of which carrageenan is thought to be derived. I would argue, however, that the thickening agent that is carrageenan and found in our thickened liquids is far from natural. Irish Moss and carrageenan are not the same thing. A bit like comparing raw sheep milk cheese with cheese whiz, or strawberries with strawberry Jell-O.
The politics around carrageenan begin on page 11 of this document, but I will summarize right here for you:
- Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed.
- Carrageenan can be classified as low molecular weight, “degraded” carrageenan, or high molecular weight, or “undegraded” carrageenan.
- Degraded carrageenan is recognized as a carcinogen in lab animals, and is therefore classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Degraded carrageenan also causes inflammation in the colon in rodents, which resembles ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.
- This inflammatory property of degraded carrageenan is not in dispute, especially since the medical research community has used degraded carrageenan for decades to induce acute inflammation in experimental trials conducted with lab animals, to test anti- inflammation drugs.
- Carrageenan processors claim that food-grade carrageenan sold to food processors falls entirely in the undegraded category. However, studies (including industry-funded studies) show that food-grade carrageenan is also linked to colon inflammation and colon cancer in animals.
You read that correctly. Whether degraded or non-degraded, "food-grade" processed carrageenan sold to food processors has been a known human carcinogen and proven to induce intestinal inflammation.
What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with every doctor and dietician's favourite dietary replacement beverage Ensure? Or why Abbot actually promotes Ensure as an aid for digestive tract health. Both good questions.
As I mentioned, Ensure along with many doctor recommended meal replacements, contains carrageenan. And who is told to take this? Yes- people suffering from conditions of wasting- including patients post chemo/radiation and people recovering from intestinal surgeries due to inflammatory bowel disease. The reality is that they are recommending a food that contains an additive that is directly linked to the very diseases for which they are suffering.
Consider this: Ensure, containing pro-intestinal-inflammatory carrageenan, an ingredient proven to aggravate Crohn's and Colitis, is made by Abbot Laboratories. Abbot Laboratories is also the maker of Humira, a popular treatment for Crohn's and Colitis. Here's the kicker though- Abbot Lab's Ensure is also the bronze level sponsor of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC).
Isn't that a perfect mix? Some might see this relationship as contradictory as having a cigarette company sponsor the search to cure lung cancer.
I have been attempting to schedule an interview with the CCFC regarding whether they believe there is a conflict of interest having major sponsors whose products could aggravate the conditions for which they are funding cures for, but so far, they have yet to be available.
We might also begin to ask why the Dieticians of Canada are recommending Ensure as a milk alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that along with Coca-Cola, PespsiCo, and Unilever, Abbot, makers of Ensure, is also a an "Academy Partner" of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It's not at all difficult to find this information and make these connections and they are certainly not limited to Ensure and Carageenan.
All any of has to do is start with the question and the connections become very clear very quickly. I hope that by next week I will have been able to get my interview with the CCFC to gain a better understanding of their relationship to this product. I don't know about you but I would love to see organizations, doctors and dieticians make recommendations based on facts and knowledge rather than sponsorship funds! (Share today's tweetable if you agree!)
Clear out the carageenan. The best thickener is fresh Irish moss anyway and this stuff actually heals. Too bad there's no way for pharma to patent it- otherwise the whole food that heals could actually be promoted to the sufferers of disease rather than alchemic potions that only make people worse.
For a more in depth look at the rest of the Ensure ingredients, check out our Superhero Josh Gitalis' post about it here.