This New Food Trend Has Professionals Rolling Their Eyes

July 7th 2017

Ethan Simon

It looks like it's time to add a new line to the list of bizarre health food trends. The fad this time?

Eating charcoal (not raw, of course).


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Food and drinks made with activated charcoal emerged in popularity earlier this year.


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Call it the polar opposite of rainbow bagels and the unicorn frappuccino, as this food trend is somewhat more monochromatic. Earlier this year, black food made with activated charcoal made a big splash in the Instagram food scene. A quick search on the social platform of #charcoalfood will render tons of images of jet black ice cream, lemonade, waffles, pancakes and even hamburgers.


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But, now, charcoal has started to appear in the health food aisle, with promises that it will detoxify your body.

The ingredient has shown up in face creams, and even toothpaste, too, lately.


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(As with most questionable health trends, Gweneth Paltrow is an ardent supporter.) And this trend has health conscious folks actually ingesting the stuff.

There's some logic to the claim. Activated charcoal is a highly porous substance, kind of like a sponge that's "made from coconut, peat, coal or wood that's been heated with a gas that creates internal pores, making it very absorbent," according to Buzzfeed. It's traditionally administered in emergency rooms to treat poisoning or drug overdoses. As nutritionist Pip Reed told HuffPost, activated charcoal is "a highly absorbent material with millions of tiny pores that capture, bind and remove heavy metals, chemicals and poisons."

If you've ever overdosed on drugs or been otherwise hospitalized for poisoning, you might have been given some charcoal as a life-saving measure — the substance can help soak up toxins and prevent them from hitting your bloodstream.

But consuming activated charcoal isn't a particularly good way to detox.

It might be like a sponge for toxins, but it's also a sponge for nutrients. "Charcoal doesn’t discriminate between 'good' or 'bad' nutrients, it binds to anything in your stomach," Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and author of "Three Steps to a Healthier You," told ATTN:. "This means you could end up absorbing fewer vitamins and minerals."


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Besides, your body already has its own detox system.

It's called your kidneys and liver, and both are fantastic. "Our liver and kidneys do a great job of cleaning our system on their own, especially if you consume a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fat. The liver processes toxins and harmful substances that have gone through our digestive system," Rumsey explained.

While ingesting activated charcoal in small amounts is likely harmless, it's good to note that "it could cause constipation, and turn your tongue (and your poop) black, " Judy Fulop, a naturopathic physician at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told Buzzfeed.

Bottom line: if you want to eat some jet black ice cream, go ahead, but making a habit of eating activated charcoal isn't doing your body any favors.

So how do I help my body be the best it can be?

"A better alternative: increase your fruit, vegetable, whole grain and water intake on a daily basis. Avoid highly processed and foods with added sugar. By eating more whole foods and avoiding highly processed foods, you will help your body function at an optimum level," Rumsey said.

Because the real trick is to just eat a balanced diet, according to Rumsey, not to engage in some detox fad.