I like my non-dairy milks and I like to think that they like me in return. I want them to be good for my body so I can feel good about pouring them over my oatmeal, using them in my muffin recipes, soups and smoothies. Generally speaking, I am delighted with the quality and selection of non-dairy milks on the market and we can chose from everything from almond milk to coconut milk to hemp milk. Any dairy avoider has certainly got options!
However, as the title of this article hints, there is an ingredient added to many of these non-dairy milks as well as other processed food products that doesn’t do our bodies any good. This ingredient isn’t a synthetic chemical and it seems fine on the surface, but studies are pointing to the negative consequences of making it a regular part of our diets.
This ingredient is known as carrageenan. It is extracted from red seaweeds and is used by the food industry as a vegan alternative to gelatin to gell, thicken and stabilize everything from veggie hot dogs to non-dairy yogurts to dressings and sauces. Carrageenan molecules are large and highly flexible, giving them the ability to curl and form helical structures. In non-dairy milks, they are used as a thickening agent so that non-dairy milk products will emulate the consistency of whole milk.
This would be dandy if carrageenan was proven to be safe, but research indicates that carrageenan can cause gastrointestinal inflammation, lesions and even colon cancer. In folks with Inflammatory Bowel Disease or other gastrointestinal disorders, carrageenan can make symptoms much worse. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that currently afflicts over 37 women in America and up to 70% of women at some point in their lives. Carrageenan is a friend of IBS and helps it stay strong and problematic for those with the condition.
Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have pointed to the same conclusion that lab animals fed food-grade carrageenan have increased rates of colon cancer. Yikes! Given the proven negatives health effects of carrageenan consumption, I think we can all agree that it is better to be safe than sorry.
CLICK HERE for a shopping guide by Cornucopia, which provides consumers with information on which foods contain carrageenan and which ones are carrageenan free. As Cornucopia states, “For every organic product on the store shelves containing carrageenan an equivalent product by another manufacturer can be found that does not contain carrageenan.” There are acceptable alternatives to carrageenan in the marketplace so let’s encourage companies to say no to carrageenan by only buying products that are carrageenan free.
CLICK HERE for a comprehensive review of the scientific literature regarding the health impacts of consuming carrageenan.