What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan has zero nutritional value, yet it can be found in innumerable dairy products and dairy substitutes. So – What is carrageenan? And why is it in our food? It’s a natural ingredient derived from red seaweed (Irish moss) and it’s used to thicken and homogenize dairy and nondairy products like milks, shakes and yogurts. You might be thinking, it’s natural, so it’s not bad for me, right?
While seaweed is a great food, it is the manufacturing process that is what makes carrageenan undesirable to many. It goes from a healthy seaweed to being not so much seaweed anymore. Take a look at the manufacturing process. It doesn’t seem like a whole food after it has gone through all of this. It begins as red seaweed, but some how the end product has been gelled, pressed or dyed, rinsed in alcohol (yum), pressed again, industrial dyed, been throughs grinder/sieved, and lastly blended/standardized. This sounds delicious and something I most definitely would love in my store bought coconut milk.
The thing is, due to carrageenan being highly processed and not recognized as an actual food, it may cause gut irritation, inflammation and even cancer. The immune response triggered within the body is similar to when your system encounters Salmonella. The inflammatory response may also lead to bleeding ulcers.
In addition to stomach issues, inflammation has been connected to heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cancer.
The ingredient could easily be kept out of liquids simply by writing “shake well” on the bottle. The emulsifier isn’t worth the risk.
So why do brands like So Delicious and Trader Joe’s keep carrageenan in their products? It all comes down to what they THINK we want as consumers. Producers add carrageenan to coconut milk for the same reason they add arsenic to chicken feed to pink up the flesh. They want it to be appealing to us. And they believe homogenized milk is more appealing than having to shake a carton that’s free of carcinogens. How do we change it? Tell them they’re wrong! If any of your favourites appear on the Cornucopia Institute’s carrageenan buying guide, stop buying it. Sign the petition requesting the FDA ban the ingredient and write the company to tell them why you’ll no longer be purchasing their product.
How to cut carrageenan from your diet:
- Check the label. Carrageenan is legally required to appear on a food label. Even organic foods include carrageenan, so check those labels as well. Organic food certification doesn’t allow the use of GMOs, chemical pesticides, and toxic synthetic additives, but it does allow carrageenan.
- Make your own non-dairy milk. You can purchase fresh Irish moss and add it to any homemade coconut milk or non-dairy milk and it will make it nice and creamy.
- Sign the petition. Sign the Carrageenan Petition to the FDA to let them know you don’t want this ingredient in your food.
- Check the Buying Guide. The Cornucopia Institute created a Buying Guide to find carrageenan-free products. Companies like Stonyfield Farm, So Delicious, Eden Foods, and Oregon Ice Cream are voluntarily working to reformulate carrageenan-free products.