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Is charcoal healthy?

By Jessica Tong, RD on April 28 2018 | News, Nutrition & Recipes

Foods fall in and out of “fashion” like colours and cuts of jeans. Foods like kale, gogi and acai berries, hemp hearts, quinoa, sorghum, and teff have given way to newly popular, so called “superfoods” like moringa, sprouted and shelled watermelon seeds, raw nut oils, maqui berries, and tiger nuts. We’ve taken a look at a few of the top trending foods and provided our take on what’s worth the hype.




  • What is it? Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • What’s all the hype about? Studies have shown that spirulina can lower triglycerides (fats floating in your blood) and LDL cholesterol, and may help raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. Spirulina has also been rumoured to aid weight loss; however, Dietitians of Canada advise that insufficient evidence exists to support the efficacy of spirulina and other blue-green algae supplements for weight loss or weight maintenance.
  • What do we think? We’re waiting until more evidence becomes available before recommending this product. While spirulina itself is not thought to produce microcystin toxins (hepatotoxins), other cyanobacteria grow in the same natural bodies of water as spirulina (warm lakes). Thus, there is the potential for cross-contamination. As such, many manufacturers now grow spirulina in controlled conditions.

While recent tests of spirulina supplements in Canada found no microcystins, Health Canada has stated that adults should exercise caution. Blue-green algae supplements should not be given to children. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult a health care professional before use.


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  • What are they? Chaga mushrooms are charcoal-looking fungi that grow on hardwood trees in cold, northern forests. Some populations, such as indigenous Siberians, have been using chaga for thousands of years.
  • What’s all the hype about? Based on limited data, some sources suggest that chaga may have anti-tumor benefits. Enthusiasts claim that chaga mushrooms can do everything from boosting immunity, to battling sun damage, to relieving pain to treating cancer.
  • What do we think? We do not recommend using chaga due to the lack of reliable data to support safety and efficacy. There is limited evidence to support the effectiveness of chaga as an anti-tumor agent due to a lack of clinical trials. The safety of its use and information regarding potential side effects is also limited. There are studies that suggest that chaga may interact with medications used for treating high blood pressure and diabetes, so people on these types of medication should avoid chaga. Chaga is also high in oxalates (oxidants as opposed to antioxidants). Oxalates can be toxic to your organs in high doses, prevent absorption of nutrients like iron and calcium, and they can also cause the formation of kidney stones.



People use charcoal for everything, from face masks and toothpaste, to shampoo and everything in between. Some people also eat charcoal pills to “absorb” alcohol when they’ve consumed too much alcohol or to “manage a hangover” or they go on “charcoal cleanses”.

  • What is it? Simply put, charcoal is burnt organic matter like wood or coconut shells. Charcoal becomes activated when it’s exposed to gases at high temperatures, and this “activation” helps the charcoal bind with anything it comes in contact with. Charcoal has been heralded to have “detoxification” properties.
  • What’s all the hype about? Charcoal is rumoured to offer numerous benefits from improving your skin to curing a hangover to whitening your teeth. Charcoal does have detoxification properties. Specifically, doctors use activated charcoal to treat acute poisoning and drug overdoses because of its ability to bind with these substances before your body absorbs it. Charcoal-based foods, however, contain a much lower dose of charcoal than what would be used by a doctor.
  • What do we think? We don’t recommend eating charcoal based foods. If you eat charcoal, it can bind to things you don’t want in your body but it can also bind with the stuff you do want —like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Eating charcoal can also keep your body from fully absorbing medications you’ve taken close to eating charcoal-based foods.

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