Photo: Shutterstock / Oleksandra Naumenko
If you had mentioned charcoal five years ago, my mind would immediately have gone to charcoal grilling (yum!). Then I started hearing that maybe cooking with charcoal wasn’t all that good for my health. Now, it turns out that eating charcoal might be good for you—as long as it’s “activated.” Seriously?
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is coal that’s been combined with oxygen or other activating agents to expand its surface area and create a negative ionic charge that attracts positively charged toxins, according to physician Jeffery Morrison, founder of the Morrison Center in New York. It’s what your Brita filter uses to clean your water. It’s in the lining of gas masks. It’s used in a hospital’s emergency room to treat patients who have overdosed on drugs or alcohol.
Activated charcoal also has been used, largely under the radar, by natural food promoters and practitioners of alternative medicine as a remedy for nausea and bloating. Because activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body, whatever toxins it attracts will leave the body along with it. Simply put, when you take activated charcoal, certain toxins can bind to it, and that helps rid the body of those toxins.
Activated charcoal as detox tool
Over the past several years, activated charcoal has been increasingly capturing the imagination of the detox crowd—think celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow touting it in her Goop blog and Shiva Rose claiming she never leaves home without it. The science behind activated charcoal as a life-saving remedy to absorb poisons from the digestive tract and remove them from the body would seem to lend itself to the notion that eating activated charcoal can cleanse the body. But experts including Elisa Bremner, a registered dietitian, in Armonk, New York, and Michael Altman, a pharmacist in Rye, New York, point out that any such “cleansing” is solely on a superficial level. Ingesting activated charcoal may clear out icky stuff lurking in your stomach and intestines, but it isn’t capable of deep cleansing your liver or kidneys. It’s also popping up in facial products for the same pore-clearing reasons.
If it’s clean eating you’re craving, and you don’t feel like dealing with all the soot, you can try this recipe for a lemon pineapple smoothie.
Activated charcoal as the next foodie trend
Activated charcoal isn’t going to make you look like Gwyneth Paltrow or Shiva Rose. But even if you don’t plan to use it as a wellness supplement, we’re predicting that activated charcoal is going to be turning up everywhere and in everything. So if you’re inclined to try it, why not try a charcoal latte—although it looks as if you may have to go to London to get some of that. Or perhaps you’re more inclined to take your activated charcoal in the form of soft-serve ice cream?