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Is it safe to eat food made with activated charcoal?

Food trends are always fun to watch and difficult to figure out. Right now, activated charcoal is having its moment as a fad ingredient. It's being added to lattes, hamburger buns, pizza crust and even waffles.

At Alchemy in West Seattle, the signature cocktail – the Black and White – features activated charcoal.

The most popular ice cream flavor at Frankie & Jo's on Capitol Hill is Carmel Ash, made with activated charcoal.

Is it safe to eat this stuff?

"If you go to an ice cream store and you see charcoal colored ice cream, I think you can have fun and enjoy it,” said Professor Lingtak Chan at the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy. But he cautions, this is not something you want to do on a regular basis.

Some health experts advise avoiding all foods and beverages made with activated charcoal. Here's why:

Activated charcoal binds to foreign substances in the gut. That’s why it’s used in emergency rooms when there's a suspected poisoning. That binding affect could cause problems, if you eat too much activated charcoal and you're taking certain medications – such as birth control pills – making them ineffective. It might also bind and remove some of the nutrients - vitamins and minerals - in the food that's being digested.

And despite the various claims being made, there is no evidence that eating activated charcoal provides any health benefit. And health experts say, the idea that it will detoxify your body doesn't make any sense.

So what about toothpaste with activated charcoal? While brushing your teeth with black toothpaste may be fun, the American Dental Association cautions that there’s no evidence that activated charcoal does any good for your gums and teeth. And in fact, it could damage them.


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