Have you ever wondered why your home made nut milk has to be shaken up every time you use it while your store bought version can sit pretty in your fridge and stay nice and creamy without separating?
It is because the store bought version has thickeners and stabilizers added to it that help prevent separation. Some examples of such thickeners would be carrageenan or any “gum” or “lecithin”.
Carrageenan, although extremely good at its job as a thickener, has raised the most eye brows over its potential harmful health effects (more about this below). Because of consumer uproar, many food manufacturers have actually moved away from using it in their products.
What is carrageenan?
Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed. It is used in a variety of food and non-food products – from dairy and dairy alternatives, to desserts, toothpastes, shampoos, beer and pop!
What’s the fuss with carrageenan?
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see that carrageenan is said to cause severe inflammation in the gut, potentially leading to some pretty serious consequences including colon cancer and ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease). Yikes … sounds bad doesn’t it.
What does the research say?
Well, most of the research out there is actually on poligeenan, not carrageenan.
Unlike carrageenan, poligeenan is NOT food safe and yes, in animal studies it has been shown to cause significant inflammation in the gut leading to cancer.
Some have suggested that our stomach acid can actually degrade carrageenan from food to poligeenan, but there is really no concrete evidence to support this.
So what about carrageenan?
A few studies have shown that carrageenan can in fact cause inflammation and tummy upset in rats (i.e. diarrhea). However, there are other studies showing that it is just fine!
Honestly, the research results are inconsistent.
There is plenty of anecdotal out there of people experiencing relief of some of their digestive ails after cutting out carrageenan from their diets, however.
So, should you avoid carrageenan or not?
Carrageenan is found in a lot of processed foods, so if you’re eating a lot of it, you likely aren’t eating a whole food (minimally processed) diet.
Ultra-processed diets themselves lead to inflammation and poor gut health! So the best place to start when trying to reduce inflammation and improve gut health is to eat more minimally processed foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes!
If you already suffer from digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, you may want to experiment with eliminating carrageenan from your diet to see if it helps with your symptoms.
Carrageenan free dairy alternatives are easy to find these days! Simply check the ingredients list to make sure it isn’t listed.
If your digestive health is fine, having a little bit of carrageenan in your nut milks here and there likely isn’t going to cause you any harm, however.
Do you avoid carrageenan? Comment below!
- Dietary interventions for induction and maintenance of remission in inflammatory bowel disease
- Clarifying the difference between poligeenan and carrageenan
- Food additive carrageenan: Part I: A critical review of carrageenan in vitro studies, potential pitfalls, and implications for human health and safety.
- A critical review of the toxicological effects of carrageenan and processed eucheuma seaweed on the gastrointestinal tract.
- Food additive carrageenan: Part II: A critical review of carrageenan in vivo safety studies.
- Revisiting the carrageenan controversy: do we really understand the digestive fate and safety of carrageenan in our foods?
- Ask the Expert: What’s the deal with carrageenan?
- Carrageenan under fire
- Effects of carrageenan on cell permeability, cytotoxicity, and cytokine gene expression in human intestinal and hepatic cell lines