Carrageenan- What Is It? Why Is It Bad?

Carrageenan-

If you’ve tried to cut down on dairy, you’ve probably started going for dairy-free milks like almond milk. Like me, you may have noticed that some of the cartons and bottles have “carrageenan-free” beautifully marked on them. I’ve even seen this on other beverages like coconut water, but what exactly is carrageenan, and why is it bad for your health?

What Is Carrageenan?
According to WebMD, carrageenan is extracted from red algae and seaweed. However, many companies utilize it as a food additive. It can also be found in certain medicines that treat coughs, bronchitis, and tuberculosis, as well as in treating ulcers and constipation.

Why Is It in Food?
Given the above, why would it be used in food? Well, carrageenan is often used in products like almond milk to bind and stabilize the ingredients, as well as to thicken the overall product. That way, almond milk can have the creamy consistency of regular milk.

Why is it good to go Carrageenan-Free?
This, as you could imagine, depends on who you talk to. It is said that carrageenan is safe when consumed in the small amounts that are found in food. However, there is a form of carrageenan that has been chemically altered that has been connected to cancer.

There is  degraded carrageenan and undegraded carrageenan. Simply put, the undegraded carrageenan is the “safe” kind. However, studies have found that the undegraded carrageenan that is used in food is often contaminated with the degraded variety. Moreover, it has also been proven that the undegraded carrageenan in food is broken down and further degraded and turned into a carcinogen in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, ultimately, even the undegraded carrageenan found in food can lead to inflammation, ulcerations, and bleeding.

Where Can I Find Carrageenan-Free Products?
Luckily, many products have gone carrageenan-free, and can be found at your local grocery store. Many of these products label themselves as carrageenan-free. If there is a product you love that you are unsure of, a simply read the ingredients list to make sure it’s healthy. The Cornucopia Institute also released a helpful shopping list, and if you’re feeling extra crafty, you can make it yourself!

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What are some dairy-free products that you love?

-Marisol

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