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?
How does this relate to Irish Moss used in a lot of raw food recipes? I know it’s a firm of carrageenan, so dies it have the same ill effects?
I can’t tell you how relieved I was to read your article, especially after using the bathroom filled with soft stools one step away from diarrhea. For the past 7 months, my digestive tract has been crazy. I blamed it on medicines I took 6 months ago that must have still been causing havoc. I now know the culprit – carrageenan! I drink almond and/or coconut milk every day and I have actually increased my intake of it – yep, you guessed it – in the past 7 months. I am on a gluten, dairy, egg, soy free diet so I was so frustrated that these symptoms were present, hence I could only blame it on the medicine since I was following my diet so strictly. I’m sad to get rid of these products but can’t wait to possibly have relief from practically daily diarrhea. I will keep you updated and thank you so much for sharing such valuable information.
Organic Natural Beauty Directory
I am so glad to have come across this article in my Facebook news feed!
I have seen Carrageen listed as an ingredient in soo many items & always wondered if it was a goodie or a badie. Now I know! I have shared this along so more people can know about this and to look out for it!
I have been trying to spread the word about carageenan for the past few months since I first learned about it. Most of my efforts go unnoticed, none of my family and friends seem to care (although my customers at least do, but they are already interested in healthy eating). My family poo-poos it but ever since I have cut this out, I feel a hundred times better! You see, my husband and I are ice cream addicts, and carageenan is in almost ALL ice cream. We indulge in ice cream often and I always had intestinal issues, that I thought was just “me.” Once we started buying ice cream without carageenan, my problems are 100% gone!!! So, the ice cream I have found that is good, are the Turkey Hill Natural line and Haagen Daz, both of which only have a few normal ingredients. Read your labels though, because carageenan is in a lot of products, just like you said, including yogurt (Trader Joes organic coconut yogurt and their slushies things for kids) and alternative milks. I’ve even seen it in granola bars! Its also in pet food!!! I have contacted Trader Joes about their use of carageenan and they have told me that basically, they don’t find anything wrong with it 🙁
I am also disappointed that Trader Joe’s uses carrageenan in so many of their products! Shame on them 🙁
Does it carry the same toxicity level when it is used in topical applications such as lotions?
I also wonder if there is a big difference between the natural seaweed, Irish Moss, and the processed form of it. (carageenan)
Here is a link I’ve read that talks about this.
Maybe someone or anyone reading actual research on this subject ? Instead of ‘Dr’ Tobacman claiming she has legitimate information . Not only does this information come from research done in the 1950’s, Dr Tobacman gets a hold of the ‘wrong end of the stick’ she then unashamedly runs with it ! This … Dr, seems only to be furthering her career…. in print. Maybe if people read the facts, they’ll then be able to make up their own mind. Largely a case of miss information. Well done Dr Tobacman …. ? For anyone brave enough to find out the reality, you’ll find it at http://dro.dur.ac.uk/5472.pdf Public health and carrageenan regulation: a review and analysis. Newcastle University. Thank you, Jen
My experience with carrageenan has been very bad. I have been working on healing my leaky gut and making great strides. Then I decided to start buying BJ’s Wholesale rotissarie chicken and after eating the meat, use the bones for bone broth. After a few days my chronic inflammation returned with a vengeance, plus heart burn and joint pain.. At first I couldn’t figure out why I was unwinding all my good work and was blaming the little bit of yogurt i was eating.
Then i decided to recheck the rotissarie chicken for soy ingredients that i might have missed and spotted the carrageenan. Some research said it causes inflammation. Yup.
I would say at least for leaky gut problems, stay away from carrageenan.
Over here in Germany carrageenan is everywhere even in freeze-dried coffee, cappucino mixes and nearly ALL dairy products and in ice-creams and desserts. It was a German nutritionist who I bumped into in the supermarket who initially told me about it when she was looking for organic cream. She told me to only buy organic cream as it didn’t have carrageenan in it and then explained what this toxin is and we got chatting about loads of nutritionist info. I was so grateful to her and since then have avoided it like the plague and told my friends about it too. Great post Lauren and thanks for writing it so well and in detail! Have shared it on my fb page for others to read too!
Hello Charlemagne. Sorry for this so very late reply but just came across this carrageenan topic as of recent. I am living in Germany and some of the dairy priducts I buy don’t even have the ingredients on their pacakaging so if you have the time, could you please wrote down some of the brands I could biy that does not have this as an ingredient? I eat a lot of natural yogurt and dronk a lot of bio milk, use heavy cream and sometimes sour cream and/or creme fraiche. Would so appreciate it. Thank you so much!
I have recently thrown out 99% of manufactured products processed foods and hygienic. SHAME ON BIG BUSINESS!!! They are killing us with a multitude of scientifically engineered poisons. Carrageenan is one piece in a large puzzle. I have done enormous studying and have come to the conclusion if it has a label it is most likely toxic but don’t take my word for it. The good LORD gave us a awesome brain. Use it! Do your own research!. It takes time but look at all the knowledge you will gain. I only shop at Health Food stores, that’s funny because 90% of what they are selling is crap! Poisons in sheep’s clothing. I am currently doing a study on ” THE GERSON THERAPY” and highly recommend you look into it. Thanks Lauren for sharing the truth…….
To your health, Nathan