You’re Probably Unknowingly Consuming Carrageenan…Here’s What It Is & How to Avoid It
If you’ve ever looked at the label of your favorite store-bought dairy-free products, you may have noticed an ingredient called carrageenan. Even seemingly healthy brands use it, but there seems to be a lot of confusion around this sneaky little food additive.
So, what is carrageenan? And should you be worried about this under-the-radar ingredient?
What is Carrageenan?
This hard-to-pronounce food additive is derived from red seaweed and is commonly used in the food industry for its ability to thicken and stabilize. It offers no nutritional value or flavour and isn’t digestible—yet food manufacturers have found it to be an easy and cost-effective way to emulsify their products and give them that “full fat” texture.
It’s also often found in “natural” and organic foods including:
- Nutritional shakes
- Dairy-free milk and yogurt (almond, coconut, etc.)
- Baby formula
- Coffee creamer
- Deli meat
What Are the Side Effects of Carrageenan?
Although carrageenan is derived from a natural source, it’s been linked to some serious health issues.
Studies show that carrageen increases inflammation in the digestive tract, which can trigger everything from colitis to Crohn’s and other forms of IBS—so especially if you already have a sensitive stomach, it may be a good idea to avoid this ingredient. Carrageenan may also mess with blood sugar balance, which is a key factor in helping you maintain a healthy weight and keeping your hormones balanced.
It’s also important to note that carrageenan causes inflammation and when we consume foods with it, we contribute to overall inflammation in our bodies. We know that inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases, so keeping inflammation at bay should be a top priority.
How to Avoid Consuming Carrageenan
The best way to avoid consuming carrageenan is to start reading labels of the food products you are consuming. You’ll likely be surprised at the number of products that contain it!
Another thing to watch out for is carrageenan that may be present in the final product but not listed on the label if it’s only used as a “processing aid.” You can always get in touch with a company directly to confirm whether or not carrageenan is present in their final product.
If you’ve been consuming store-bought products, the best option is to look for carrageenan-free brands or try making your own homemade version of your favourites. Ideas include homemade almond milk, coconut milk, and even dairy-free yogurts. A few carrageenan-free products include Silk Almond Milk, Elmhurst Oat Milk, So Delicious Coconut Milk, and Califia Almond Milk Creamer.
The Bottom Line
Although it may not be as bad as some sources make it seem, it’s hard to find evidence for any major health benefits associated with carrageenan, which may be reason enough to avoid it.
That said, more studies are needed to determine if consuming small amounts of carrageenan is safe in the long term. My advice: Do your own research, ask questions, and decide what feels right for your body and health.
Danica is a holistic nutritionist, wellness expert and health coach on a mission to help women around the world find their optimal well-being. She is the founder of Nakd Health, where she coaches clients to prioritize wellness in their busy lives with delicious recipes, nutrition advice, fitness and lifestyle changes.