Carrageenan, a food thickener used in dairy alternatives, may be the cause of digestive problems and inflammation in sensitive individuals. How does that make you feel? You switch to non-dairy beverages because of milk intolerance and end up with more of the same digestive woes. In sensitive individuals, carrageenan can produce painful cramps, bloating and diarrhea.
Carrageenan, made from red seaweed, is used as a thickener/stabilizer/emulsifier that adds no nutritional value. Carrageenan also may be labeled as Irish Moss or Rock Moss as it is made from boiled down Irish Moss or Chondrus Crispus.
It can be found in both organic and processed foods including many non-dairy alternatives (almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk), some dairy products (sour cream, yogurt, ice cream) and deli meats.
The food additive has been linked to a number of diseases, including gastrointestinal inflammation, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, lesions and cancer. Dr. Andrew Weil on www.drweil.com lists carrageenan as a food additive to avoid by those with irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal disorders. He also cites a study, done in 2001 on animals, which linked carrageenan to ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had compiled enough evidence from animal studies to limit the type of carrageenan that could be used in foods. However in 1979, the FDA decided to continue to allow the use of carrageenan and since then, has taken no action on its use in products.
As with other food sensitivities/allergies, your best control is knowing what goes into the foods you eat. Read labels, keep carrageenan-containing foods out of your shopping cart, do most of your own cooking, and you should be fine. Go to Cornucopia.org for a complete list of products containing carrageenan as well as safe foods.
Check the labels of alternative dairy beverages carefully as they often contain this additive. There are some brands that do not use carrageenan as an emulsifier or thickener. Write food manufacturers to protest the use of this ingredient.
Consider making your own almond, soy or hemp milk to avoid this additive. Here is a recipe for making hemp milk.
To make a half gallon of hemp milk, you will need:
One-half cup of shelled, raw hemp seeds
3 cups of cold water
Blender or food processor
Nut bag for straining
Half-gallon glass container
•Put the hemp seeds and water in your food processor. Blend for 1-2 minutes.
•Pour the milk through your nut bag to strain out hemp seeds.
•Store the hemp milk in your glass container in the fridge.