Is Carrageenan (E407) Banned in the UK?

Seaweed used for carrageenan production

Carrageenan is a thickening agent, gelling agent, and stabiliser used in some food products. It is a natural food substance harvested from red and purple seaweed.

However, this natural product is often confused with degraded carrageenan, which carries substantial health risks. Many people are left confused about the safety and legalities of this additive.

So, is carrageenan banned in the UK? As it turns out, the gelling agent is not prohibited in the UK, but there are usage exceptions to counteract the health risks.

Here we reveal more about the legalities of this compound, the released health warnings, and what the research is saying.

 

Is Carrageenan Banned in the United Kingdom?

Carrageenan is not banned in the UK and is legally used as a thickening agent in many food products. However, there are two types of carrageenan to be aware of that are often confused. One is more dangerous than the other, and both types have different usages, limitations, and restrictions.

The first is known as food-grade carrageenan or E407. This type of carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed and processed using alkaline substances and is a genuinely natural compound.

The second type of carrageenan is known as degraded carrageenan or poligeenan. Unlike food-grade carrageenan, poligeenan is made by processing E407 with acid and other chemicals. The result is an entirely synthetic compound.

Food-grade carrageenan (E407) is an approved food additive in the United Kingdom. It can legally be used as an emulsifier, stabiliser, thicking agent, and gelling agent.

On the other hand, poligeenan is not approved as an additive and has never been used in any food applications. Instead, the latter holds a place in medical imaging.

 

What Are the Health Risks Associated with Carrageenan (E407)?

The health risks associated with E407 are minimal. According to a report by the European Food Standards Agency, there are no concerns over its carcinogenic properties or genotoxicity when consumed.

However, ingesting food products containing carrageenan can carry some unwanted side effects. This includes bloating, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and food allergies.

These findings were not enough to ban carrageenan in the UK, but the existing acceptable daily intake (ADI) is currently at 75 mg/kg body weight per day.

After the re-evaluation report, the EFSA said this daily intake should be considered temporary and improved within five years of the report. It was written in 2018, so a revised intake should be available soon – until then, eating less is best!

 

What Are the Health Risks of Poligeenan?

On the other hand, degraded carrageenan is not safe to eat and is a known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer assigned poligeenan to carcinogenic risk Group 2B, meaning it is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Therefore, it is banned for use in food substances in the UK and the rest of the world.

However, poligeenan still has its purpose. As an inflammatory substance, it is used by researchers to test new anti-inflammatory drugs in the lab. It is also used in medical imaging, specifically in X-rays of the throat and mouth when swallowing.

Finally, the degraded carrageenan induces lesions in the intestines of animals and has been used heavily in the study of IBS.

 

Why Is the Use of Carrageenan in Food Controversial?

Although many toxicity studies have found carrageenan (E407) to be safe in food, the significant health risks associated with poligeenan have sparked a controversial debate.

The main issue is whether or not food-grade carrageenan can be converted into poligeenan when it comes into contact with stomach acid. Some animal studies indicate this could happen, but there have been no human trials due to the potential health risks.

Many people have reported feeling less digestive discomfort when cutting carrageenan from their diet, but there are no scientific studies to support these claims.

Do you want to eliminate this substance and see if you feel the benefits yourself? These are some products that commonly contain this controversial thickening agent:

  • Processed dairy products: Ice cream, cottage cheese, cream
  • Plant-based dairy alternatives: Vegan cheese, vegan yoghurt, plant-based milk
  • Processed meats: turkey bacon, processed ham, pork sausages

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