OCTOBER 21, 2014
Carrageenan is a common food additive extracted from red seaweed and used as a thickening agent, stabilizer and/or emulsifier. It has no nutritional value but is commonly added to foods such as ice cream, yogurt, soy milk and other processed foods to enhance the consistency and to make low-fat versions taste richer. Seaweeds containing carrageenan have been used for centuries in food preparations for their gelling properties, but the refined, isolated carrageenan found in most modern processed foods has raised concerns.
There are two distinct types of carrageenan: degraded and undegraded. From a chemical standpoint, the difference between these two types is in their molecular weight. From a practical standpoint, undegraded is approved for use in food products, while degraded is not.
Research links carrageenan to gastrointestinal inflammation, lesions and colon cancer in animals. While the inflammatory property of degraded carrageenan is not in dispute, the food industry claims that food-grade carrageenan sold to manufacturers falls entirely in the undegraded category. However, studies have reported that undegraded carrageenan can degrade in the gastrointestinal tract and that, when tested, levels of degraded carrageenan were found in food products.
At this time, the evidence isn’t conclusive either way. If you’d like to avoid carrageenan in your diet, be sure to read food labels and consult this list of products that do not contain it.
For a review of the research and to reference a detailed list of products containing carrageenan, visit cornucopia.org.