This day and age, it goes without saying that it’s a good idea to read an ingredients label before buying a product. Many times I have been shocked by the preservatives and unnecessary additives that are put into foods, especially when they are labeled in a way that makes them seem healthy and all natural. If an ingredient looks like a rocket ship launch code, complete with numbers and obscure letters that don’t actually form words, I put it back on the shelf immediately.
But what if the words you skip over because they look like real foods are actually harmful to your body? A common word that is brushed off, mostly because many people don’t even know what it is, is carrageenan.
Are you having flashbacks to the box of ice cream sitting in your freezer, or your tube of toothpaste in the bathroom? That’s right, carrageenan can be found in hundreds of different products. It comes from a natural source, so technically a product can still be called “all natural” if it contains carrageenan. The problem is that just because it’s “all natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
First, let’s look at all the different names for carrageenan: Algas, Algue Rouge Marine, Carrageen, Carrageenin, Carragenano, Carragenina, Carragheenan, Carraghénane, Carraghénine, Chondrus crispus, Chondrus Extract, Euchema species, Extrait de Mousse d’Irlande, Galgarine, Gigartina chamissoi, Gigartina mamillosa, Gigartina skottsbergii, Irish Moss Algae, Irish Moss Extract, Mousse d’Irlande, Red Marine Algae.
Just a few to remember, right?
Carrageenan comes from boiling a type of seaweed that is commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean. It is used to thicken, stabilize, and make foods or products gelatinous. It has zero nutritional value and is purely used to hold things together, which is why it’s often found in otherwise healthy products like yogurt and protein shakes. The main health concerns associated with carrageenan are gastrointestinal related. Those with gastrointestinal disorders like IBS are often cautioned by their physicians to avoid carrageenan whenever possible. According to Dr. Joanne Tobacman of University of Illinois School of Medicine, “Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding.” Dr. Tobacman even found in her research with lab animals that carrageenan can be linked to gastrointestinal cancer.
The following is an excerpt from beyondpesticides.org regarding their conclusion that carrageenan is NOT healthy and should be banned from foods:
“Results from the 2005 Marinalg Working Group’s tests clearly show that degraded carrageenan, a substance that is known to cause colon inflammation and is classified by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as a “possible human carcinogen,” was present in all samples of food-grade carrageenan. Therefore, all carrageenan should be prohibited from foods, especially organic foods.” The full report is located here, and it is worth reading. It will make you wary of ever purchasing a product containing carrageenan again.
So where else can carrageenan be found?
- cottage cheese
- ice cream
- almond milk
- soy milk
- rice milk
- deli meat
- chip dip
- frozen pizza
- protein shakes
- salad dressing
- infant formula
The list could keep going and going. Thankfully, the Cornucopia Institute has put together a fantastic list of organic foods to avoid due to carrageenan as an added ingredient. It can be found HERE. If you would like to save the list to your computer for future reference, click here to download the PDF: Shopping Guide to Avoiding Organic Foods with Carrageenan.
If a product contains carrageenan, a company is legally obligated to put it on the ingredients label so thankfully that makes it not too difficult to avoid. From major organizations and groups to individual people, there are thousands protesting the use of carrageenan in foods, and you can help! Sign this petition to tell the FDA that you don’t agree with carrageenan in your food, and there ARE other alternatives. Every person and every voice (or electronic signature) counts!
By Courtney Perry