In recent years, I’ve noticed the addition of something called carrageenan in many dairy products: ice cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, etc.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a mixture of polysaccharides derived from red and purple seaweed using strong chemical alkalis such as sodium hydroxide. It is used in food products as a thickening or emulsifying agent.
Why is Carrageenan a problem?
I was quite disturbed when I started seeing carrageenan in my food. I used to work in medical research. One group I worked with was studying tumors. They would inject animals with a known carcinogen. But the concoction they used also contained carrageenan. Why carrageenan? Because it acted as a tumor promoter. It didn’t really cause the tumor, but it helped with its development. Quite disturbing to think that now it is in my food.
According to The Cornucopia Institute, carrageenan is also implicated in many cases of gastrointestinal symptoms. They suggest some food alternatives that do not contain carrageenan. They also have a report for download titled Food-Grade Carrageenan:
Reviewing Potential Harmful Effects on Human Health.
Carrageenan is implicated in chronic inflammation; and is also a known migraine trigger in many people.
Why is Seaweed safe and Carrageenan NOT safe?
That was actually one of my first questions when I learned the source of carrageenan. Just because it came from a natural source does not make an additive safe or natural. The biggest problem with carrageenan is something called “degraded carrageenan.” This degraded carrageenan, a by-product of the extraction process, has been classified as “possible human carcinogen” by the WHO. It was first thought that there was no degraded carrageenan in food-grade carrageenan. But recent studies have found degraded carrageenan in food-grade carrageenan. It has also been found that stomach acids can break down carrageenan to the degraded form.
Carrageenan has no nutritional value. It is used in products like ice cream to improve its texture. BUT, I remember making ice cream as a child. We never added carrageenan. I have begun to suspect that it is an additive used by lazy manufacturers. Another use is in soy milk and almond milk, presumably to give them a texture similar to cow’s milk. But there are alternatives that do not contain carrageenan.
I have always avoided carrageenan; first because I knew it from my work in research and second because it is a known migraine trigger. You may want to consider avoiding it too.
The comments below were held in moderation until this week as I pondered whether to even publish them. I finally decided I would publish them but I wrote another blog post addressing their comments.