If a box, wrapper or carton extolls its contents as “all natural,” it probably isn’t. Since it doesn’t fit under a strictly regulated definition, the word “natural” covers a myriad of sins (including beaver’s butt and pesticide drenched GMOs… yeah).
One such sin in “natural” and even certified organic food is carrageenan.
A Unnatural Awakening
I first awoke to this sneaky additive years before my passion ignited for whole foods. At the suggestion of a naturopath, I had given up cow dairy and instead tried a switch to non-dairy milk. During one shopping trip at Whole Foods, I innocently picked up four varieties of these uber-processed fake foods for a taste test.
Back at home, I sampled each and decided one brand of hemp milk tasted the least offensive. But a day later, I was experiencing excruciating heartburn after each meal. Two painful days later, I realized my heartburn only occurred shortly after drinking the hemp milk!
Analyzing the ingredients with a fine tooth comb, I pinpointed carrageenan as the problem. Since then, I have avoided this sneaky additive like the plague. And you should, too, even if you don’t feel its corrosive properties.
What is carrageenan?
A seaweed-derived ingredient, manufacturers use this additive to thicken and emulsify everything from cottage cheese to juice. Since seaweed is a low-allergy, non-animal derived source, natural and organic companies tend to favor it.
Perhaps the most notorious source of this thickener is non-dairy milks, everything from hazelnut milk to oat milk. But it also commonly appears in everything from cottage cheese to frozen pizzas!
Why is carrageenan harmful?
How is carrageenan harmful, since is it just seaweed? Seaweed is good for us, right? Nope, not this seaweed.
Just because something is natural, like seaweed, doesn’t mean it is beneficial to eat in the first place (want a plate of Death Cap mushrooms, anyone?). But the processing of carrageenan as an additive adds to its toxicity.
Carrageenan falls into two main categories: degraded and undegraded:
- Degraded carrageenan causes cancer in lab animals, it is considered a “possible human carcinogen.”
Animal experiments may provide the most shocking example of the internally corrosive properties of degraded carrageenan. Not because these studies test the toxicity of this additive, but because scientists give rats degraded carrageenan to induce colitis! (Source)
- Undegraded carrageenan is considered “food grade” and is used as an additive. Many companies choose to believe that this type of carrageenan doesn’t carry the toxic effects of the degraded variety. It does.
First, every sample of undegraded carrageenan tested shows the presence of degraded carrageenan… as much as 25% of the sample! Undegraded carrageenan also can turn into degraded carrageenan in the intestinal tract (source).
Dr. Tobacman, an associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, conducted numerous studies and found that undegraded carrageenan leads to malignancies, inflammation and stomach problems. Even the small amount in a serving of processed food is enough to cause inflammation (source).
How do I avoid carrageenan?
- Don’t place unwavering trust in marketing. Unfortunately, many advertisers will tell you their product is healthy and natural, even when that is far from the truth. The responsibility to protect your body lies with you… not so-called “natural” food companies.
- Find homemade alternatives to carrageenan-laden, processed options. You will have full control over ingredient quality and save money. If you want some safe dairy-free milk options, try homemade nut or seed milk. You just need a nut milk bag and a recipe! If you’re looking for non-dairy ice cream, just grab a can of quality coconut milk and my Pinterest board chock full of easy ice cream recipes.
- Explore the Cornucopia.org list for companies who use or avoid carrageenan in their specific products. You may wish to print this out and take it on your shopping trips.
Do you avoid carrageenan? Have you noticed it on the ingredients list of products in your health food store?