I recently learned about this food additive when I was having a discussion about almond milk vs. regular milk with a friend. I am not against drinking regular milk, but I made the switch to almond milk when I was trying to eliminate any potential hormone disrupting foods to get rid of my PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) symptoms several years ago. I was upset to find out that several brands of almond milk have carrageenan added to it. Here is a great list from The Cornucopia Institute of different foods and brands that contain carrageenan and those that don’t.
So what is carrageenan and why is it controversial? Carrageenan is derived from a red algae and used in food as a thickener and stabilizer. There are two types of carrageenan: degraded and the good safe undergraded. Some research shows that some food safe undergraded carrageenan may contain bits of the unsafe degraded version, and also that the undergraded version could convert to degraded in our intestines. It has undergone many studies over the years and found to be carcinogenic in tested animals, promoting tumors and colitis like inflammation. It may also be the culprit of some digestive upset in many people.
It is found in many meat and dairy products such as milk, almond milk, soymilk, coffee creamer, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, deli meats, infant formulas and more! It also is found in many organic brands of these products as well as conventional.
So what are we to think? We are told what is added is food safe so shouldn’t that be enough? In my opinion, even if the amount allowed in the food is food safe, no one knows the outcome of repeatedly ingesting it, or consuming multiple foods that contain the ingredient. I give my daughter almond milk to drink because regular milk made her very constipated, and to think I was giving her large amounts of a possible carcinogen makes me upset. I am not someone who lives in a bubble and never eats anything that could have fake ingredients or chemicals in it, or never give my kids treats and snacks, but I do try to eliminate these potentially harmful ingredients as much as possible. Sometimes it just means switching brands of products.
Additionally, If you are someone who has intestinal inflammation or digestive issues, you may want to look into ditching carrageenan in your diet. Just switching some brands is all you need to do when it comes to some products. Read your ingredient labels to find which ones contain it and which ones do not.
Harmful or Harmless: Carrageenan (discusses the other side of the argument, stating the studies do not show the direct correlation as a carcinogen, but still warns from consumption)