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?
A comment from a website that says eggs are good for thyroideal health… pfff
After a round of antibiotics in October I became very sick and developed adult onset allergies. My family doctor suspected lactose intollerance and a new allergy to salmon which I have eaten all my life. He sent me to an allergist and I kept a food journal before I saw him of everything that was making me suddenly and terribly ill…often within minutes of eating or drinking. There was one common ingredient…carrageenan!! When I talked with the allergist he agreed to test me for this a allergy and also guar gum but really did not believe it was so. The tests are not back yet but since cutting carrageenan and guar gum out of my diet I have felt wonderful!!! Better than in many years. My husband also cut them out and also feels better. I have had no more horrible diarrhea or hives or bloating or sudden and severe vomiting. We read labels and I email or call meat and dairy producers to ask if they use these ingredients before I will eat them. We now drink raw milk from our local co-op which is helping to heal my badly damaged stomach. I was getting violently ill after eating ice cream but have NO trouble with Haagen Daaz or Turkey Hill All Natural. I wish I had known about this poison years ago as I would have cut it out a long time ago.
RE: Carrageenan versus Soy
1. Does soy, the processing/making of soy, have any carrageenan in it? Should we be avoiding anything with soy or soybeans, eg. mayonnaise, if soy is associated in any way with carrageenan?
2. Is carrageenan disguised under another name on labels?
3. Yves products contain carrageenan, eg veggie burgers, etc.
Other names for carrageenan:
Chondrus Crispus, Irish Moss
Forgot to mention:
Carrageenan is also in many of the ‘natural’ toothpastes (Desert Essence). It is not in the Tom’s I have but that may not apply to all of their products. Check the ingredients before buying..
FYI….any toothpastes with sorbitol will also cause GI problems. It is usually remembered by any ingredient ending in ‘tol’ is hard on the GI.
Hello, someone else had ask and I was wondering also as to whether carrageenan is ‘ok’ to use topically, but didn’t see an answer. Sorry if I missed it.
I so agree! My celiac leaky gut did not start to heal till I quit store bought almond, rice, coconut or any other seed milk!
Way easier to make and feel better and start to heal!
I never found out till I ran out of store bought and then began to hurt and bleed which lead to reading the label with Wikipedia and the celiac dictionary AND talking to fellow celiacs!
Then I found Lauren’s post. I was relieved to know it wasn’t “all in my head”!
There is no scientific evidence that carrageenan is harmful to humans
I could not work out why I sometimes had the most awful painful upset stomachs from time to time and so bad I had to go to bed but always on days when I travelled by train and the reason was I picked up one those chilled chocolate milk drinks to drink on my train journey. With detective work on my part and looking at what was in those ready to drink drinks I found it was Carrageen in them. Since I have avoided them the problem has stopped and I check every thing I buy now as some dairy free yoghurts contain them.
“I innocently picked up four varieties of these uber-processed fake foods”
You sound just slightly biased.