So, you are considering migrating to a more plant-based diet? Maybe you are even considering veganism? Whether or not you have fully committed to a diet change, you need to be cautious still. Often plant-based or all-natural dieting trends can seem healthy. However, some substances come from plants that we are just not meant to eat. Carrageenan is one of the more dangerous examples. It tops the list as one you should try to avoid because it is prevalent in many foods, and the exact science on what it does to our bodies is not fleshed out.
We will cover everything you need to know about Carrageenan. Like, where it comes from, the reported side effects on the body, and the common products that contain it. Ultimately it is up to you to decide what you put in your body. However, after reading more about this substance, you might think twice about picking up your favorite product from your local grocer.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan has a name that makes it sound like some chemical concocted in a lab by some mad food scientist. However, it is a natural substance sourced from a red seaweed you can only find in the British Isles. Moreover, people who live there used in their cooking for centuries. Only recently has it become an additive in food products to thicken, preserve, and emulsify. Emulsify means to force two liquids that would naturally separate to mix. Most of your favorite dipping sauces or condiments like mustard, ketchup, ranch, and Italian dressing are all emulsified. Keep in mind that not all your favorite foods that are emulsified are going to contain Carrageenan. The emulsion process is common in cooking and does not always require the red seaweed from the British Isles.
Now, you will find Carrageenan in many plant-based products. Since it works as a thickening agent, it is becoming popular in the production of vegan ice cream, cheese, milk alternatives, and dairy-free yogurt. You can still find it in some non-vegan products. It is common in puddings, processed meats, jelly, and cheese. If you have some of these products in your home, it is likely that if you check the labels, at least one will contain Carrageenan. It’s prevalence in essential cooking products is part of the reason it can be dangerous.
Is Carrageenan really that dangerous?
Do not be fooled by its status as “naturally sourced” or “plant-based.” As an additive, Carrageenan can have serious health complications. Studies and reports link the substance to an increase in gastrointestinal inflammation, glucose intolerances, bloating, allergies, and in the worst-case scenario, colon cancer. When we talk about side effects like these, is checking ingredient labels in the grocery store not worth the time?
You could be saying, “I looked it up, and Carrageenan is approved by the FDA, so it should be safe?” The unfortunate answer is no. It is still not safe. That rating by the FDA is still quite controversial. There are two types of Carrageenan. It is undegraded and degraded. The degraded version is not authorized by the FDA because it contains carcinogens that are well known to cause cancer. However, a significant point of contention for many health experts is whether there is a difference between the versions? Experts still question the results of our stomach acid and the substance mixing. Some studies indicate that the undegraded version or supposed “safe one,” once broken down by our stomach acid, creates the same carcinogens as the version deemed unsafe for food use.
The reality is, given the possible side effects and the uncertainty regarding its “safe use,” your healthiest option is to avoid products that use it entirely. Until more scientists study what happens after Carrageenan enters our stomach acid, consuming it is not worth the risk. You are much safer reading ingredient labels and finding alternatives in your grocery store. Luckily there are tons of all-natural or plant-based products you can try when exploring a new diet.
Check ingredient labels and find your substitutes if necessary.
If you want to avoid Carrageenan, it is easy. Read the ingredient labels the next time you go grocery shopping. They can be challenging to find. However, once you find the first list, you’ll know where to look on the packaging. The next time you go grocery shopping, you may find that many of your favorite products already don’t use this substance. However, on the off chance they do, no worries. There are plenty of quality substitutes. We recommend checking out the following brands as quality alternatives that are Carrageenan-free. They are also all plant-based and all-natural! Check out EdenSoy, Miyoko’s Creamery, Nancy’s Soy, and One Green Plant products. You cannot go wrong with any of these brands.
Dr. Casey Sinclair, D.C. is a leading holistic healthcare doctor trained in functional medicine. He has extended his reach around the world by co-founding Family Health Advocacy, a health advocacy group lead by doctors and health professionals providing resources and education on global health matters. He has been fortunate to act as health a consultant to some of the largest companies in North America and as a professional speaker he’s had the privilege of speaking to thousands of people. Dr. Casey is an advocate for people suffering with chronic pain and fibromyalgia and has authored a book on the subject.