Hey Zoom: Should I Be Eating All This Activated Charcoal?

August 11, 2020

Hey Zoom

Great question. We've been eating a fair share of activated charcoal ourselves. The Salty Caramel Ash ice cream at Frankie and Jo’s is delicious. And when you're having a horrible day, there's nothing like sipping a smoothie that's as black as your mood.We consulted a ZOOM+Care doc to find out if this stuff is helping or hurting us.

First, how did charcoal end up in food?

In 2014, activated charcoal made its way into juice and smoothies as an attention-getting “detoxifying” agent. Before long, it jumped from juice to cocktails — bartenders loved that it gave libations a mysterious black hue. Little Damage in LA was the first to feature it as a badass ice cream flavor.

Docs use it for serious detox.

As a treatment for poison, activated charcoal has been used for centuries. “This kind of charcoal is heated until highly porous, so it acts like a sponge inside your digestive track, soaking up other substances,” says Dr. Alena Guggenheim, a ZOOM+Care Naturopathic Physician. “It’s used in the ER when people ingest poison or overdose on certain drugs, or I might recommend it when a patient is taking antibiotics to kill harmful gut bacteria," says Guggenheim. "It helps absorb toxins released in the process.”

It backfires in smoothies.

“As for using charcoal for everyday detox, that’s a lot of hooey and it can be dangerous,” says Dr. Guggenheim, who doesn’t use the term ‘hooey’ lightly. “Charcoal will absorb any medication you might be taking, as well as the nutrients in your food.” That means putting it in your green juice or fruit smoothie makes zero sense. “You end up getting less nutrition,” says Guggenheim.

Bottom line: Enjoy with caution.

Guggenheim doesn’t insist that we swear it off. “If you aren’t taking prescription meds, consuming a little activated charcoal once in awhile won’t hurt you,” she says. So eating it in everything? Not good. Eating it occasionally just for the hell of it? Go right ahead. If you're interested in reducing toxins for real, schedule a same-day, no-wait visit for Immunity.[Photo by Arnold Gatilao from Oakland, CA, USA, via Wikimedia Commons]

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