Monday, June 25, 2012

Sausage-Induced Headaches: Another Clue Points to Carrageenan

A few years ago when I started a low carb diet and started eating sausage again, I found some sausages gave me a headache, but others didn't. At first, eating them was a crap shoot, but I soon found some I couldn't eat (Applegate Farms Organic & Natural Meats) and some I could (McDonald's Restaurants and Ranch Foods Direct, a local pastured meat company).

Some of Applegate Farms' products contain carrageenan (a highly processed, seaweed-based food additive used to induce pain and inflammation in research animals). McDonald's and Ranch Foods Direct sausage doesn't contain it.

Why put carrageenan in sausage? According to Applegate Farms' website,

Carrageenan, which is derived from red seaweed (Chondrus Crispus), activates extracted protein in the meat to help it bind together when formed. As the meat cooks, the heat forms a gel network, increasing moisture retention and improving the sliceability of the product. Without the addition of carrageenan, there is an increased chance that the protein in the meat "will release water during the cooking cycle, leaving pockets of water between the cooked meat and the casing. Not only is this excess water unappetizing when the product is sliced, but it contributes to microbial growth as well". (Scott Hegenbart, New Product Design, September 1991)
The ironically named book Making Healthy Sausages gives another use for carrageenan: a fat reducer.

In emulsified meat products, such as sausages, pates and meat spreads, pectin enables fat reduction and by adding carrageenan to in edition [sic] to pectin a superior texture may be obtained.
This is a bit off my beat, but as with low-fat diets, politics and money may have played a role in getting this toxin in American foods. Back in 1991:

Handicapped by a foreign bank debt of about $29 billion, the Philippines needs to boost exports to generate more taxable revenue. The country had a trade deficit of $3.9 billion in 1990. In addition, the economy has been wracked by political uncertainty and natural disasters the past two years. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their livelihood when farms, shops, offices and factories were swept away by the eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo. The country's unemployment rate is now about 17%....The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently ruled that Phillipine carrageenan, a low calorie food additive derived from seaweed, can be sold to processors in the United States. With American demand for low-fat food on the rise, Phillipine companies expect to boost sales of their food additive filler dramatically and bolster the Phillipines' economy.(1)

 The issue is complicated, but the answer is simple: just eat real food.

Source: "Seaweed a Godsend for Filipinos : Trade: The fat substitute carrageenan could be a big boost to the economy. But U.S. producers are trying to derail imports" by George White. Los Angeles Times, September 09, 1991.



Suzie_B said...

Your posts have inspired me to do some further research on carrageenan. I ran across this rather long research paper filled with lots of history and health implications that I found very interesting:

Lori Miller said...

Thanks--good article. The fact that undegraded carrageenan affects laboratory animals, and that there are known mechanisms that could cause it to degrade during digestion, is all the more reason to avoid the stuff. The damage to macrophage cells is scary.

Anonymous said...

I think .02% of a product that is bound to water dispersed in a meat product that makes up more than 60% of the weight might not be the problem here. Why single out carrageenan when clearly you eat alot of processed food. You'd be better off thinking about that. The research on carrageenan has been so extensive because there have been so many public concerns about these apparent risks - yet all government authorities and independent advisors the world over agree its safe in teh ways used in food. Its abit like saying salt is dangerous - it is if its used in bulk. You need to think more about what you eat, think about DOSE response... Find me evidence that carrageenan causes any problems in the way its used in food and I'll change my mind. But really...

Lori Miller said...

Why single out carrageenan? One, because both the undegraded and degraded forms cause inflammation and other problems in laboratory animals. Two, my stomach feels better than it has in months since I stopped drinking almond milk, which contained carrageenan. I don't have any problem with almonds. I'm not sure why you imagine I eat a lot of processed foods--I rarely eat out and I mostly eat meat, eggs, vegetables and coconut milk. The sausage I buy lists meat and spices as ingredients.

Researchers and government officials don't all agree carrageenan is safe.

FWIW, according to the Making Healthy Sausages book, in the "Additives Typical Usage Amounts" table, carrageenan-kappa is .02% to 1.5%. MSG is also within that range, and it gives some people problems.

fencehead2 said...

Hey mate, I've had sausage related headaches for as long as I can remember. Also plain lays chips give me headaches. I've found that butterflying the sanga before cooking it almost always fixes the problem. Hope this helps you out.