What is Carrageenan?

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An ingredient I continue to see in many dairy and other products was unfamiliar to me and I wanted to do some research to find out what it was. This ingredient was carrageenan. Where does it come from, why is it used, and is it safe, were some of the questions I had about it.

The answers I found were a little bit scary! Carrageenan is a gelatin-type substance derived from a red seaweed often called Irish Moss. Major use of it began in the 1930s and the Philippines is the largest producer of it. Carrageenan is used in products to give them more substance and texture – to make them thick and creamy. Sounds safe enough. But studies and many people’s personal experiences indicate otherwise.

Carrageenan has been found to cause health problems for many people, including vomiting, ulcerative colitis, bowel inflammatory problems, colon cancer,and possibly even breast cancer. One researcher has done tests involving carrageenan on human tissues (not just animals) and found that carrageenan definitely had negative effects on breast and bowel tissues. See a blog discussing these results at: http://www.notmilk.com/carageenan.html. Another great website to check out that discusses carrageenan and research done on it is found at http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-81760722.html.

Carrageenan is added to many products people consume on a daily basis. These products include ice cream, whipping cream, sour cream, frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk products, granola bars, fruit rolls, condensed milk, powdered chocolate milk, processed meats, and many others. For many of these foods, there are brands that don’t include carrageenan. Check labels and choose more natural products. Tara gum, another thickener, seems to be a safer alternative (see my article on tara gum.)  It’s a scary thought that so many food manufacturers will put harmful additives in our food to make things more convenient or less expensive for themselves. But it is important to remember that we always have a choice and if we all choose the healthier alternatives, manufacturers will eventually catch on.

Even though I have never personally experienced any negative effects of carrageenan that I know of, evidence seems to show that carageenan is a harmful food additive. What I learned about carrageenan is enough to convince me to avoid it as much as possible!


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