Activated Charcoal: What You Should Know

Sometimes, I see a food trend build in popularity and wonder if it’s worth writing about. Activated charcoal has been on my list for a while, but I didn’t think consuming charcoal was a trend that had any real staying power.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Now that Wal-Mart and Walgreens are carrying activated charcoal in pill form, this is a product that probably isn’t going away anytime soon.

For those of you who have only used charcoal with your grill (and not in your ice cream), the idea of consuming activated charcoal is essentially to remove toxins from your body. In fact, charcoal has long been used in medical settings to treat certain types of poisoning. It is effective in these cases by binding with the poison in the digestive tract, preventing absorption by the body.

Clever – and deceptive – marketers have taken this concept and applied it to various foods and supplements, suggesting that by adding charcoal to pizza crust, chai tea, and smoothies you can purify your body.

There are two big problems with that concept.

First, charcoal doesn’t only bind to toxic substances. It binds lots of things, including beneficial nutrients. The number of vitamins and minerals you’d normally get from a particular food will be drastically reduced when taken with charcoal. In this way, activated charcoal actually makes these foods less nutritious.

Second, the idea that our body needs help with detoxification is wildly overblown. It’s true, of course, that a balanced diet with plenty of micronutrient-rich fruits and vegetables will go a long way towards making sure your immune system functions properly. One way to hinder that natural process? Eating charcoal and preventing those micronutrients from ever being absorbed.

If you want to try “charcoal food” once for fun, it probably won’t do much harm. Take a picture, put it on Instagram, whatever floats your boat. But consuming charcoal will eventually only lead to nutrient deficiencies – not detoxification.

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