What is Charcoal Powder? And How Can You Use It In Your Food

What is Charcoal Powder
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If you’ve ever walked into a health food store or browsed for health products online, you’ve probably come across activated charcoal. From activated charcoal tablets to powders, it seems to be omnipresent in various products from drinks to toothpaste. 

So what is charcoal and why is it so popular?

Activated charcoal was originally used as a detoxifying agent. In fact, its unique composition makes it ideal for absorbing toxins from the body, specifically from the stomach if you have accidentally ingested something toxic or poisonous. 

Most of us know charcoal as the black pieces of coal-like substance that are used in barbecues. Charcoal is the byproduct of the burning of carbon substances such as wood or coal followed by the removal of water. It is typically black and has a dusty sandy texture. 

Nowadays people use charcoal in a variety of ways, from adding it to beauty products like moisturizers, toothpaste and even in recipes. 

Activated charcoal powder is made by finely grinding charcoal. Subsequently, it is activated through oxygen exposure and ultra-high heat treatment. 

The activation process rearranges the carbon atoms in the charcoal leading to the formation of a porous surface with thousands of tiny holes. This is what makes activated charcoal incredibly unique: its exceptionally large surface area. Charcoal’s pores are highly absorbent; this is what gives this substance its reputation as a toxin remover. 

The history of activated charcoal

Originally, activated charcoal was used in hospitals. In fact, charcoal has been used for a long time in emergency medicine settings. Specifically, it has been used for treating drug overdoses and accidental poisoning with toxic substances. Promptly administering charcoal in sufficient amounts leads to the charcoal binding with specific drugs or toxins, thus reducing their absorption in the gut. In doing so, this minimizes any damaging health effects for the affected person. 

In addition, charcoal was traditionally used for gas and bloating as it was thought to absorb any excess air in the gut. 

It’s important to note that activated charcoal and charcoal powder is highly absorbent due to its uniquely large surface area. Therefore it doesn’t discriminate between toxins and other substances. 

In fact, while it may be desirable for absorbing poisonous substances, if you are taking any medication, charcoal may reduce its absorbency and effectiveness. 

Therefore if you are taking any supplements or medication and wish to take charcoal, make sure that you check first with your doctor. Either way, even if you are not taking any medication it’s always best to check with your doctor first to ensure that you are not taking anything that could potentially harm your health. 

What is Charcoal used for nowadays?

These days, many people keep activated charcoal at home as a home remedy. Most chemists and health food shops freely sell activated charcoal as an alleged wellness product. 

Watch this video to learn more about how it’s used as a natural remedy:

Some people like to use charcoal powder as a skin exfoliator as it may help to remove dead skin cells and leave your skin feeling softer. Some kinds of toothpaste also contain charcoal claiming to help whiten teeth. This is because charcoal can be quite abrasive therefore helping to buff away stains on the tooth’s surface. 

In recent times, there has been a surge in health products advertised for “detox” purposes which contain activated charcoal powder. Unfortunately, there is not much scientific evidence to support most of the claims made by the manufacturers of these products. In addition, so-called detox products such as smoothies and juices usually contain very little charcoal which is usually just used for aesthetic purposes rather than for health benefits. 

Charcoal Powder
Charcoal mask. Photo by Anissa Mebarkia Thomsen on Pexels.com

How Do You incorporate Charcoal Powder in Your Food

In recent years, any type of food or beverage, from water, coffee, bread, salads, and more – has been introduced to charcoal addition.  The most popular way these days that people are adding the charcoal powder to their food is by adding it to water or juice to make a detox drink. Some also sprinkle it over their salads and other dishes as a garnishment. 

Charcoal powder is also being used in baking, and you can find it in bread, Cupcakes, waffles, and cakes. Others even add it to Ice Creams…Check out some ways you can use Charcoal in your recipes

Is charcoal good for you?

When you ingest activated charcoal, its effects do not extend beyond your gut. Therefore, despite what some marketing claims may suggest, a “detox” charcoal-containing product cannot absorb toxins from other parts of your body. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that regularly consuming activated charcoal is beneficial for your health. 

In addition, we have been led to believe that we need to detox our body in order to be healthy. This is well and truly a myth. In fact, our body is a finely tuned machine that is built for detoxifying itself. Organs such as our liver and kidneys work to detoxify our body of toxins and they definitely don’t need juice to assist them!

Does charcoal have any side effects?

There is a lack of reputable literature looking at the long-term use of charcoal at the levels typically found in most over-the-counter products. Most scientists agree that low levels of charcoal consumption are unlikely to cause any serious side effects. However, be aware that if you take prescription medication orally, consuming activated charcoal could hinder the effectiveness of your medication.

In rare cases, charcoal consumption may cause pain or swelling in the stomach as well as constipation and vomiting. More commonly, it may cause diarrhea in some individuals. Be aware that activated charcoal will cause your stools to turn black.

This is to be expected so don’t be alarmed when this happens if you are taking charcoal. No other side effects have been reported with charcoal consumption. However, if you do notice any other side effects make sure to flag these with your doctor as soon as possible. 

Interestingly, charcoal can bind well to certain medications and poisons however it does not effectively bind to alcohol. Some people may consume charcoal thinking it can cure a hangover but the truth is that charcoal has no effect on alcohol. 

Most of the literature investigating the effects of activated charcoal involves cases of poisoning and it is often limited by the small sample size of the studies. It seems that activated charcoal may have some beneficial effects for reducing flatulence (1), however, the evidence is conflicting (2). 

It is still unclear how activated charcoal interacts with certain nutrients. For example, it is believed that it may bind to water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C which is beneficial for our health.

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