Carrageenan: The Devil You Didn’t Know Even the most conscientious consumer can get confused and distracted by the myriad choices in our supermarkets and even our co-ops, healthfood and specialty stores. For the past several years, there has been a deluge of information pointing us toward organic and vitamin-enriched foods, and driving us away from allergens and pesticides. This is great progress! Unfortunately, even within the small universe of healthy alternatives, the mysteries, controversies and contradictory evidence presented by food organizations, doctors, scientists, corporations, advertisers and trade organizations can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible to decipher. It’s enough to make me want to throw up my hands and say: “pass the Cheetos.”
While we all want to trust that our local co-op only carries products made with healthy ingredients, and we generally believe that organic is better than conventional and that “natural food” is just that, there is one ubiquitous ingredient lurking beneath the sea salt, behind the xanthan gum or next to the sunflower lecithin in many of our highly evolved products: carrageenan.
Carrageenan is a food additive derived from red seaweed – sounds natural and nutritious, yes, but in actuality, it has notably high correlations to colon cancer, inflammation, and a depressed immune system. It’s cheap and easy for manufacturers to use, and makes otherwise bland food taste palatable. Check your fridge- you’ll find carrageenan in such healthy foods as organic yogurt, hemp milk and Applegate Farms sliced turkey.
The controversy around carrageenan involves the idea that there is one type of carageenan that is healthy and one that causes cancer and other disease. Indeed, corporations and other heavyweights in the food industry successfully lobbied the FDA to have carrageenan deemed safe. However, the safety of the “healthy” carrageenan has been refuted by top medical professionals who suggest we stay clear of the additive. I only recently became aware of the additive, the controversy and the realization that so many of the products we have switched to in an effort to eliminate inflammation may in fact be exacerbating inflammation. My son and I haven’t eaten any dairy for almost three years so we’ve been making healthy smoothies filled with vitamins and antioxidants- until just last month when I realized that our almond and coconut milk have been processed with carageenan. So essentially, we have been trading the devil we knew for the devil we didn’t know.
So where does this take us, to the point where we cannot trust anything or anyone leaving us no choice but to create our own concoctions? That would be an option. But while we all wish we had the time, space and patience to make all of our own food from absolute scratch, even the crunchiest among us often reach for some ready-made grocery items. What you may find is that carrageenan often appears where you least expect it, including toothpaste, beer, shaving cream, gummy products and yes, organic dairy. In my mind I ask, why not chose the products without carageenan and support companies who use whole ingredients and stay away from potential carcinogens? The good news is that there are many products out there that do not use carrageenan. Here is a comprehensive list of some very nutritious and healthy foods that in fact have carregeenan in them- and the brands that don’t.