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WTF is Carrageenan And Why We Should Avoid It At All Costs

carrageenan You may have heard or seen the ingredient carrageenan recently and wondered WTF is it?! The easy answer is that it's a commonly used food additive that comes from red algae. Well that does sound too bad, right? Unfortunately, it's origin can be deceiving. Yes, red algae comes from nature, but not all natural things were made for us to consume. This additive has zero nutritional value and can even do harm to your digestive system, skin or colon. The truth is coming out about carrageenan and people are demanding that corporations take it out of their products. This is what you need to know about this strange ingredient.

What products normally contain carrageenan and why?

Carrageenan is used as a thickener for dairy products and substitutes, an emulsifier to bind ingredients together that generally want to separate, and a stabilizer, giving foods the desired texture intended by the manufacturers. These traits make carrageenan very popular in dairy products and dairy substitutes (almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, dairy-free ice cream, etc.). It can also be found in baby formula, cottage cheese, flavored coconut water and even toothpaste! Carrageenan is basically only there to make the consistency of these dairy substitutes more comfortable for the consumer and to make low-fat foods fuller. Yes, the separation of this liquids can be alarming and strange looking, but is it worth a possible hazard to our health? Many companies think so and are often adding it to their organic products with the permission of the FDA. Organic foods have banned the use of chemical pesticides, GMOs and toxic synthetic additives, hopefully carrageenan will be put in the spotlight for the next FDA decision making gathering.

Why is carrageenan bad for us?

There are two types of carrageenan, undegraded and degraded, undegraded is food grade, according to the FDA, and degraded has been labeled as a carcinogen. In the beginning, it was believed that food grade carrageenan had no trace of it's harmful side, but many studies have shown that the harmful effects cannot be separated and both types end up being carcinogens when digested. Carrageenan starts breaking down in the gastrointestinal tract and liver where it begins to become harmful. Mainly, it causes inflammation, which is linked to many diseases such as, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease and cancer. It triggers an immune system response that causes inflammation linked to stomach ulcers, as well as diabetes, due to its ability to impair our glucose tolerance. The problem is basically that it is not easily digested, or able to be digested at all, and has no nutritional value.

Why does the FDA say food grade carrageenan is ok?

Yes, carrageenan is an approved additive by the FDA. There are split opinions of whether or not carrageenan is harmful to humans. Most animal studies with adverse reactions are administered with their water, not their food and there have been very few human tests, so most of the outcomes are only founded on the animal reactions. Some say that food grade carrageenan can turn into the carcinogenic degraded kind during digestion and cause health problems when it gets to that stage. The bottom line is that there is an absence of prove that carrageenan does not cause harm and it's best to take precautions with food questionable effects on our health.

What can we do to avoid it?

Make a habit of checking the ingredients for the products listed above to see if what you are buying contains carrageenan. You can also use this guide to see which common dairy and dairy substitutes do not contain this carcinogen. But the safest way to avoid harmful ingredients is to make it yourself. Unfortunately, a lot of non-dairy milks contain carrageenan to get that creamy consistent that mimics dairy milk, so sometimes it's safer to skip the middle man and be your own manufacturer. Making almond milk is simple and guarantees that it only contains what you want to drink. Prefer coconut milk? This recipe only takes 10 minutes! Making your own non-dairy products isn't only safer, but also cheaper, you spend less and waste less if you make smaller batches.

How Can I Help Get It Out Of Our Food?

Companies want to make what their customers want to buy, if your favorite products contain carrageenan, write a letter or email or call the company and let them know how you feel about it. The more complaints they get the more likely they will be to change it. You can also sign this petition that tells the FDA that we want carrageenan taken off the safe food additive list. Your voice is powerful and change can be made when enough people speak up and demand it. When it comes to food, it's always good to do your own research. If you don't recognize an ingredient on the back of the label, look it up! Then you can make your own decision on whether or not you think it should be in your food and if it's time to say WTF is with that ingredient.  

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Monica Schrock is a passionate non-toxic lifer and has her own non-toxic, vegan and cruelty-free skin care company, Bare Bones Body Care. You will most likely catch her drinking coffee, playing basketball, reading comics or laughing uncontrollably.
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