Have you heard… or should I say seen? Activated charcoal is the new ‘it ingredient’! Yup, those black brioche buns that look like you dropped your burger in the remnants of a campfire are black because of one dramatically coloured ingredient, activated charcoal. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is incredible, but like everything Low Tox… it’s important to know the facts before you start adding it to your breakfast, lunch and dinner, because you could actually be taking AWAY from your breakfast, lunch and dinner… more on that in a bit.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is actually activated carbon, which has been heated to increase its absorptive properties – it’s super absorbent. It’s most commonly used these days as a natural treatment for trapping and eliminating toxins, pathogens and heavy metals in the body, by binding to them in the gut so you can poop them out – charming!
While activated charcoal should not be taken willy-nilly and it’s always best to check in with a private or health shop practitioner, it has been attributed to the relief of bloating, excess gas and belching, tummy bugs, reducing hangovers (anecdotally of course), ingestion of poisons (ALWAYS seek medical help first but it is still used today in poisoning emergencies and some overdoses) a reduction in cholesterol, supportive for elderly patients with renal conditions, wound healing, a general detoxifier and a strong elimination tool when used safely. A pretty impressive list, don’t you think? Check out this full list of studies if you want to read more and explore the research.
Activated charcoal in food
Like any ‘superfood’, there’s often some really sound evidence to suggest that it does do exactly what it’s famed for and activated charcoal is no exception. However, there can always be a few grey areas with this. Because of charcoal’s incredible black colour it’s being used as a marketing spin when promoting ‘detoxifying’ smoothies, sourdough, burger buns, crackers, ice cream cones, chocolate bars, bliss balls and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, combining activated charcoal with food kinda defeats the purpose of it in the first place. You see, it’s a binder designed to bind and remove toxins from the body, but use is always recommended on an empty tummy or at least an hour or two from a meal, because it BINDS – to not just the nasties but nutrients also. And while there’s yet to be hard data on to what degree this occurs, we don’t want our thoughtfully prepared meals to have nutrients bound and flushed out of our bodies. So the oh-so-hot black coconut waters and bread buns? Skip ’em…
Once or twice for novelty though, I have used it at my little man’s birthday parties – like that time I made black icing and a Lego Star Wars mini figure action battle on top of a cake – Do the whipped caramel icing and then add a tablespoon, working up to two if needed, of the activated charcoal until it’s black. Lots of fun.
One year we also had Darth Vader water, which was just soda water with a little charcoal in it – the kids thought it was the coolest!
Am I going to have charcoal in my daily foods? Nope.
How to use it
Yes activated charcoal in foods is a no-go but it can still be used in other ways to gain all of the health benefits:
- Choose an activated charcoal derived from coconut shells / natural sources like the one I use below – not the same stuff you get for the bbq or fireplace!
- Always ensure when ingesting charcoal that it is certified ‘food-grade’.
- Make a charcoal face mask: add a teaspoon of powdered activated charcoal to 2 tbs warm or lukewarm water, until a paste is formed. Apply a thin layer of the mixture to your face. Rinse after 5 to 10 minutes. Charcoal face masks are incredible for purifying the skin but should not be used daily as they can dry out skin with long-term use. Once a week or fortnight is just the ticket.
- If you’re feeling bloated, gassy or you have a loose tummy try 1-2 teaspoon of activated charcoal in some water and follow it with a glass of water afterwards to aid in the detoxification. It has a deceptively refreshing taste despite looking like you’re sipping on liquefied coal. It’s mildly gritty but not offensive at all.
- When you know there’s a gastro bug and you’re wanting to protect your family? What my family does, on advice of our naturopath, and 1/3 dose for my 8 year old, is we take a tsp saccharomyces boulardii (which by the way you have 15% off on until end of April with the code GUTHEALTH through the Emporio Link there) before a meal, then an hour after a meal (or just an hour later if no appetite) 2 teaspoons of charcoal and a glass of water a few minutes later followed by another glass of water. This star studded duo is what meant my husband was able to make it to my 40th, waking up with a massive tummy bug. We doubled his dose for the morning and afternoon and he made it. Amazing!
For your peace of mind, Steph Hinton on our low tox team is a naturopath who added these dosage recommendations above when it comes to taking internally, so it’s not some ‘random blogger’ situation. I am a BIG fan of whatever we share here being backed by a qualified practitioner or some research when it comes to making health product recommendations.
How not to use it
- To wash your car. It’s very messy and not advised. Hee hee!
- Ensure when you take your charcoal it’s not combined with anything acidic like lemon. Adding acidity can reduce the effects of the charcoal.
- Take charcoal at least 30 minutes away from food to avoid inhibiting nutrient absorption – an hour or two or simply ‘in between meals’ is best. Food + charcoal = lost nutrients.
- Don’t take charcoal daily unless you’re on a prescribed protocol by a health practitioner. It’s incredibly powerful and should be used occasionally as a detoxifying or ‘mopping’ agent when needed.
- Avoid the hype and don’t invest your money in food products claiming to fix all your health problems with charcoal. Save your money, it’s purely gimmick!
Products to try
If you’re intrigued by the idea of activated charcoal here are a few of my favourite easy-to-use and safe products.
With a bamboo handle, the bristles have been infused with Activated Binchotan Charcoal, known for its natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. This tooth brush is SO 2018!
I love the Magic Mud range and this oral rinse is fabulous. It’s a great little once or twice a week booster for your daily flossing routine (cause you floss daily, right? Oxygenate those pathogens and they die, so flossing is king for oral health!) because you floss to release any nasty bugs caught inside the gum area, then you mop it up and spit it out with the rinse. Genius!
This is a gorgeous Aussie family business and this powder has all the makings of your secret perfect-teeth weapon. Charcoal is a wonderful, gentle whitener for the teeth over time.
Pure Eden derives their charcoal from coconut husks and grinds into powder. This is activated charcoal in its purest form. You can use this stuff in water as a detoxifying drink or make a face mask with it. This is the one we have at home. 100% Pure Konjac Charcoal Sponge
Konjac sponges are great for all skin types, gentle on the skin and with the addition of pure bamboo charcoal they can exfoliate and remove impurities from the skin and then popped in the compost when it’s time. If it’s the first time you’re ordering them, don’t panic that they’re delivered rock hard. Water on them makes them beautiful and soft.
It is so great that there are bandaids now that aren’t made of nasty stuff. The addition of charcoal is great and mimicks the ‘poultice’ vibes of the past in various war times, applying charcoal to wounds. Definitely worth having in the medicine cabinet at home with a couple in the handbag – what ISN’T in my handbag? Basically nothing. I’m ready for everything in there!
So I’d love to know if you’ve used activated charcoal and how you’ve found it. Has the allure of pitch-black brioche buns caught your eye? So bizarre once you understand the way charcoal is actually of benefit, hey?
Low Tox. Happy us. Happy planet.