Is Carrageenan Bad For You?

It can be worrying when you hear bad things about foods and ingredients in foods. So, is Carrageenan bad for you? The processed product which is used as a stabilizer in many foods can cause complications such as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, leaky gut, and it has even been suggested that it can be a cause of colon cancer!

But this has sparked a lot of conversation that has pulled the humble sea moss into the muddy waters of the Carrageenan debate without any true merit. To set the record straight, there is a big difference between Irish Sea Moss as a whole food, and Carrageenan as an extract from seaweed. So in this article I will help paint a picture of what Irish Sea Moss is, and look closer at the question ‘Is Carrageenan bad for you?’

What is Irish Sea Moss?

A widely used type of seaweed, Irish Sea Moss, or just Sea Moss (depending upon which part of the world you are from) has been known by different names. Some call the Chondrus Crispus species of seaweed Irish Sea Moss, and others call the Eucheuma Cottonii species Irish Sea Moss. But if you were to be precise, the accuracy of this could be called into question.

Chondrus Crispus is a species of red seaweed that grows in cooler rocky waters. When compared to Eucheuma Cottonii it has a flatter looking leafier appearance, while Eucheuma Cottonii can look more twig-like and grows in warmer waters. Eucheuma Cottonii is what most in the Caribbean, and Chondrus Crispus in the Atlantic would call Irish Sea Moss.

How Can I Eat Seaweed Everyday - www.detoxandcure.com
Chondrus Crispus – grows in cooler waters like the Northern Atlantic
How Can I Eat Seaweed Everyday - www.detoxandcure.com
Eucheuma Cottonii – Grows in warmer waters like the Caribbean, Andaman, Java and Celebes Seas

Chondrus Crispus has long been a part of the diets of people in these areas for generations. Responsible for helping the body with many different functions, sea moss was looked to as a natural remedy for treating aliments such as:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Mucus build up
  • Bladder disorders
  • Intestinal disorders
  • Halitosis
  • Glandular problems
  • Lung difficulties
  • Tuberculosis
  • Ulcers
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Swollen joints
  • Tumors
  • Influenza, and
  • Mumps

As we have become more and more aware of the benefits of seaweed as a wholefood, the nutritional value of this superfood is gaining more and more attention around the world. Chondrus Crispus is known to be high in:

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate)
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Sulfur
  • Calcium
  • Potassium, and
  • Iodine

Chondrus Crispus typically consists of approximately 15% mineral compounds and 10% protein, and is capable of holding between twenty and one hundred times its weight in water. This is attributed to the polysaccharides housed within the structure of the seaweed. When washing and soaking dried sea moss, these are the parts that can initially give off a sea-like odor.

Eucheuma Cottonii is very similar to Chondrus Crispus in the manner by which it absorbs mineral elements, macro elements and trace elements from the sea. This is like nothing that is able to be cultivated and harvested on land in terrestrial plants.

Eucheuma Cottonii is sometimes referred to as Sea Birds Nest, particularly in Asia. Almost confusingly, this too is known by many throughout Asia as Irish Sea Moss. This common recognition, or label, applied to Eucheuma Cottonii in this part of the world by merchants has meant that Chondrus Crispus has been sold as Eucheuma Cottonii, and vice versa.

Putting that element of confusion aside with regards to the botanical names of species, both carry extremely similar benefits as the other when it comes to their use as a wholefood. What matters here is that you are getting a whole seaweed, and not a highly refined powder (which is how Carrageenan is normally sold).

So, is Carrageenan bad for you?

Recent findings have suggested that Carrageenan, as a refined product made from specific seaweed, can cause irritation in the bowel. Some have also gone as far as to suggest that Carrageenan may be carcinogenic. This would reasonably cause alarm bell to ring for anyone, which is why we are raking a closer look at the situation.

If you hadn’t already noticed, we love what sea moss has to offer, and can see that there are some clear misunderstandings applied here. In the extensive report “Connecting the Dots: Corporate Influence at the USDA’s National Organic Program” the Cornucopia Institute openly criticized manufacturers of food products over their use of Carrageenan in what were supposed to be organic foods. The first lines of this report spell out the tone of the paper by titling it the Organic Watergate.

This type of practice is not uncommon in large organisations. In Australia we have seen the misappropriation of food labeling standards by large retailers to the point that customers had boycotted entire lines in the stores. Carrageenan, displayed on food labeling as an additive under the number ‘407’ or code ‘E407’ is used as a thickening or stabilizing agent is not the whole seaweed. Additive E407 has been linked to a range of issues outside of the Cornucopia Institute’s report.

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Carrageenan powder

Used in everything from ice cream, to soy milk, to meat, Carrageenan can be purchased by the ton from manufacturers in China through wholesalers. Conjecture around the real problem coming from degraded Carrageenan , a low molecular weighted product, and not from undegraded Carrageenan was refuted within this report. The degraded or undegraded state of the Carrageenan was reported to be, more or less, irrelevant when looking at the effects.

A highly politicized situation, as a result, has since unfolded. This has left many people wondering if they should avoid sea moss altogether. So what do I think?

I’m not inclined to agree. I don’t think there is valid reason to avoid sea moss altogether based on this misunderstanding – after all Carrageenan and Irish Sea Moss aren’t the same thing.

As I suggested earlier, to say that Carrageenan is the same as Irish Sea Moss is comparable to saying that high fructose syrup is the same as organic corn. It’s a bit like saying that fresh raspberries are the same as raspberry cordial.

Seaweed-for-Food-What-is-Sea-Moss-Good-For
What is Carrageenan? Find this image on Instagram.

Refined Substances vs. Whole Foods

Refining a substance from primary source does not mean that it is likely to be more effective in higher concentrations. The whole food carries the volume of minerals and vitamins wrapped up inside specific structures that enable them to get to where they are needed in the body. This is Nature’s clever gift.

For example, there’s no need for us to extract the essence of an orange down to simply the ascorbic acid. There are other minerals, vitamins, and sugars that allow the vitamin c to make it all the way to where it is needed, intact, to be more effective that 1000mg concentrated into a pill.

Consider this; you can get vitamin B from fresh, natural sources, or, you can consume a synthetic thiamin hydrochloride, vitamin B1, which has been made from coal tar. Anything made from coal tar is not my first pick.

A woman could certainly be at high risk of her baby being born with various defects if she was to have too much synthetic Vitamin A in supplement form during her pregnancy. However, consuming foods which are rich in natural sources of Vitamin A are perfectly safe. To consume the volume of wholefoods that are high in Vitamin A to have the same effect as a synthetic, high concentration, supplement is a super-human effort.

To allow sea moss to be caught up in the confusion around the Carrageenan discussion is irrational. Millions of people have benefited from taking sea moss in it wholefood form for hundreds of years, and they will continue to do for hundreds more. Consuming foods that have these nutrients in their natural balance is healthier, and safer than the higher concentrations manufactured outside of nature.

Is Sea Moss Safe For Everybody?

By no means does the information here, nor my opinion on Irish Sea Moss, extend to the point where I would say that a person who is allergic, or has particular sensitivities to exposure to sea moss should take it.

Like peanuts, gluten, avocado, lactose, or any other substance that someone has an allergy to, you need to know your body and only give it what it needs. Keep away from anything that you have reactions to. If you do have a reaction to something, you should seek medical assistance immediately.

Typically, very few people have reactions to sea moss, and the number of people who consume it on a daily basis indicates that it is safe to consume. The reasons for consuming sea moss include:

  • Improving general health
  • Improving reproductive health and functioning
  • Losing weight, and
  • Seeking relief from a range of aliments

If you find that you have any doubt about your understanding of the safety of sea moss, then I would suggest that you keep to the cautious side of the beach until you understand the topic further. My only request with regard to this is that you do your own research and learn more before deciding either way. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it.

In Closing

Keeping a clear mind when it comes to the topic of Carrageenan, which has been highly processed from seaweed, and sea moss, as a wholefood is reasonable. These aren’t the same thing. Is Carrageenan bad for you? I would say that it should be avoided in it’s refined form as much as possible.

www.detoxandcure.com - Matthew Carpenter

About the Author

Matthew has been on an active journey towards living a healthy life from a young age. Influenced by his Grandmother, a practicing Naturopath in the 1940's, his views on living holistically were shaped from a young age. Growing up in different parts of Australia, his connection with the Ocean and a passion for sustainability comes through in everything he does and shares.

6 thoughts on “Is Carrageenan Bad For You?”

  1. After reading this I had a look at the food I have in the house. There’s a lot with E407 in it! Should I get rid of these?

  2. Hey Steve, that’s a great question.

    Getting rid of anything that you feel is not good for you is a good move. I wouldn’t suggest just throwing a whole lot of things out in one big go.

    Try replacing them over a period of time with options that don’t have any nasty chemicals in them. These smaller changes, made over a period of time, are easier to stick to when you consider how much of a shock one big change can be.

    Baby steps are more permanent that way. But, if you feel you can move at a faster speed than that, and keep it up, all the more power to you!

  3. I remember seeing a video where Dr. Sebi was showing people sea Moss and what he held up looked like the picture of Eucheuma Cottonii you have here. He called it Chondrus Crispus though. Are you saying Sebi was wrong?

  4. Hi Tanisha,

    Thank you for your question, this is a very good point.

    First off, we have a deep admiration for what Sebi achieved. However, there have been, and still are some challenges with what sea moss is known as. I am familiar with the video you described and have found a snippet of this to share with others here. You can clearly see Sebi holding up a type of sea moss that is twig-like and not a red flat leaf. This is where the biggest difference comes in.

    dr-seb-the-real-sea-moss-www.detoxandcure.com-what-to-know-before-you-buy-sea-moss
    Different types of seaweed have different nutritional values, and this in itself is a gift to us. As we explore the oceans and learn more about this part of our planet each day, the 35,000+ species of seaweed are being studied with greater attention to detail.

    I have used Eucheuma Cottonii (more correctly known as Kappaphycus Alvarezii), Eucheuma Denticulatum, and Gracilaria consistently for years now and have found that there are some pretty big differences with how they present as they are prepared. Once made into a sea moss gel they tend to be very similar.

    As long as the type of seaweed you are using is working for you, it doesn’t really matter what you call ‘sea moss’ at the end of the day. Just be aware that Gracilaria can be called ‘fake sea moss’ by those who don’t understand this. And Eucheuma Denticulatum will not look as pretty as the others, but it has a lot of nutritional value once it is prepared properly.

  5. Hi, great article. I always thought that all Irish Sea Moss/Sea Moss was Chondrus Crispus… does Eucheuma Cottonii have the same advised benefits in helping clear mucus and bowel/digestive aid? Im looking to try find some local Sea Moss gel and the one I am leaning towards uses Eucheuma Cottonii sea moss… Thanks

  6. Hello Sam,

    Thanks for your question and kind feedback.

    We have used both Gracilaria and E. Cottonii for very similar outcomes. We’ve found they both function nicely as a decongestant, digestive aid, and more.

    Other than those two, C. Crispus and U. Pinnatifida. We are also making S. japonica a part of our day for some very interesting and current reasons. With the situation around COVID-19, this seaweed has more recently been looked upon as a potential solution.

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