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Doctors Warn Activated Charcoal Food Craze Might Not Be Healthy

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The charcoal craze has been a big hit with specialty foods, but now, some doctors say it might not be so healthy. It's the new black: food made with activated charcoal.

"Charcoal stands out as something that's wildly, wildly different. And when you see it, you go, 'Wow!'" SoMa StrEat Food Park public events manager Ashlyn McFadden said.

Activated charcoal comes from super-heating materials like coconut shells or wood. It's not the same as your barbecue briquettes.

At Doughp, the black charcoal powder is mixed into chocolate chip cookie dough.

"It's really a trendy thing right now. You see other people do it, you want to try it, too," Doughp assistant general manager Alexis Gutierrez said.

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A recent food festival event had something called 50 Shades of Charcoal.

McFadden says more than 15 vendors whipped up more than two dozen creations, from savory to sweet.

"It dissolves really well in homogeneous, creamy foods," she said. "The one that comes to mind most is ice cream."

But in New York City, the health department has banned activated charcoal. Officials say it's not an approved food additive.

In medicine, activated charcoal is used as an emergency treatment for certain kinds of poisoning or overdoses. It helps prevent the toxins from being absorbed from the stomach into the body.

Doctors say there aren't enough studies to show its benefit in food.

"It may cause constipation, because when we use this in medicine, the charcoal kind of sits in the stomach. It binds everything we want it to, but it doesn't clear very well," Dr. Ryan Cudahy, of Dignity Health Medical Group, said.

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"If we're prescribing you medications and the charcoal is binding things that we don't want it to, then your medications won't be as effective," Dr. Cudahy said.

Aside from food, a variety of products contain activated charcoal, including skin products.

There's also black toothpaste that's said to whiten teeth by adsorbing plaque and microscopic particles that stain teeth.

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