Is Commercially Mass-Produced Eggnog Unhealthy?

Irish moss seaweed -- is there a little of this in your packaged eggnog?
When you want some eggnog this time of year, all you have to do is reach into the refrigerator case at your local supermarket or bodega and Bam! You've got some delicious eggnog. But are commercially produced products, even organic ones, always good for you? The Wisconsin-based organic agriculture think tank Cornucopia Institute doesn't think so.

According to the Cornucopia Institute this product contains carrageenan, an additive permitted under the Federal standards for Organic.
In a recent press release emailed to food writers, the Institute warns that many commercially produced eggnogs contain carrageenan, a chemical stabilizer. This additive imparts a thickness to the beverage's texture (one might almost say sliminess), and assists in keeping the other ingredients from separating, though it's not an actual emulsifier. So, some of that slickness and thickness we expect from commercial eggnog, the quality that helps it stand up to mega amounts of alcohol without becoming noticeably thinner, is partly the result of carrageenan.

Yes, the carrageenan is produced from natural sources, but not everything added from nature is salutary to your health. In particular, Cornucopia claims, carrageenan is a bowel irritant for certain people, and can create a chronic state of inflammation that can lead to more serious illnesses - including cancer.

Here is their exact claim:

Food-grade carrageenan, derived from seaweed, has been shown to cause gastrointestinal inflammation, both in laboratory animals and in studies using human colon cells. Gastrointestinal inflammation is a precursor to many digestive diseases, including colon cancer. In several studies with laboratory animals given food-grade carrageenan in the diet, carrageenan was shown to promote colon tumors. And many individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), "belly bloat" or other chronic intestinal maladies have found relief after eliminating carrageenan from their diet.

Discouraging, huh? But really, you ought to be making your own eggnog anyway, and Fork in the Road promises a recipe or two in the coming days.

In the meantime, Cornucopia singles out Organic Valley, Kalona Supernatural, and Straus Family Creamery as organic brands without any carrageenan added.

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Pasting boilerplate into a blog isn't very convincing. Who wants any additives in their food, no matter how "natural"?


SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHSCONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGEQ. What is Carrageenan??A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.Q. Why the controversy?A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.SummaryCarrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.Closing RemarksThe consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.Additional information available:On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347