What is it anyways?
Carrageenan is used in a range of products that can claim natural and organic because it is an ingredient derived from seaweed. And just because you are shopping in Whole Foods or buying organic, you’re not necessarily avoiding carrageenan.
How I found out about it
Although I smile and my friends say I am gregarious, when I shop I am highly transactional-I walk fast, focus my eyes on my target and exude body language that says “don’t speak to me.” So it is quite surprising the reason carrageenan entered my radar for ingredients to further investigate is due to a complete stranger approaching me at Whole Food’s aisle in Edina, MN.
I was comparing the differences among the almond milks when a sixty-something, white haired woman walked over to me and said, “be sure you don’t buy one with carrageenan.” She added “Good luck. Almost all of them have it.”
Intrigued, I looked down at the ingredients lists of the two cartons I was holding, one in each hand. One of the the cartons was Blue Diamond and the other carton was the Whole Foods 365 brand. The Blue Diamond carton had the ingredient. Intrigued I returned both cartons to the shelf and then picked up the remaining 6 other almond milk brands in the aisle- each one also listed carrageenan on the ingredient list.
Natural and organic, it has to be ok, right?
After returning the last carton to the shelf, I whipped out my iPhone and entered the ingredient into Google. What I found was the typical non-conclusive, legal scrubbed assessment of most food ingredients included in shelf stable, processed foods. However, there were some headlines describing why consumers should ban carrageenan from their diets due to possible carcinogenic effects.
Why I don’t buy products with Carrageenan
For me, as I was five months pregnant at the time, this possibility was enough to make me add this ingredient to a list of ingredients I avoided while pregnant. And, in fact, once I got home, I spent quite a bit of time researching carrageenan.
While I didn’t uncover anything more conclusive beyond my initial Google search, the fact the ingredient was associated with several studies that link it to cancer was enough for me to add this ingredient to my do not buy list, and I continue to avoid buying products that contain it for myself and my family today. This is actually a harder feat than you might expect.
In fact, the prevalence and use of carrageenan is so vast, I recommend this product and brand guide from The Cornucopia Institute as the best resource to identify products with/without carrageenan. You’ll see no matter where you shop and even within categories and brands there are differences. Unfortunately, with carrageenan, if you choose to avoid it like I do, it’s important to read the ingredient label on each and every product to see if it contains carrageenan.