Ask Amelia Food Myths Nutrition

Carrageenan: What It Is and How to Avoid It

carrageenan

Carrageenan sounds harmless enough at first glance: a derivative of red seaweed used as a thickener, stabilizer or emulsifier in many dairy foods and dairy alternatives.

But research has actually linked carrageenan to increased inflammation in the body – particularly gastrointestinal inflammation which can cause colitis-like disease and tumor promotion. Yikes!

The really scary thing is, carrageenan is found in SO MUCH of what we eat, even organic foods and other favorites of many “healthy eaters.” While it’s probably not harmful in very small amounts, if you’re relying on carrageenan-containing foods regularly, you may be putting your health at risk.

Here are just a handful of popular foods that contain carrageenan, as well as some better alternatives that do not.

CONTAIN CARRAGEENAN

DO NOT CONTAIN CARAGEENAN

Chocolate Milk

  • Horizon Organic
  • Clover Stornetta
  • Kirkland Signature
  • Organic Valley (shelf-stable only)
  • Troo Moo (Alta Dena)
  • Most other chocolate milks
Chocolate Milk

  • Organic Valley (refrigerated)
  • Straus Family Creamery
  • Castle Rock Organic
  • Strafford Organic
Cottage Cheese

  • Whole Foods 365
  • Cabot Creamery
  • Clover Stornetta
  • Horizon Organic
  • Publix
  • Trader Joe’s
Cottage Cheese

  • Nancy’s
  • Organic Valley
  • Kalona Supernatural
Sour Cream

  • Horizon Organic
  • Natural by Nature
  • Publix
Sour Cream

  • Whole Foods
  • Organic Valley
  • Nancy’s
  • Wallaby Organic
  • Straus Family Creamery
Almond Milk

  • Almond Breeze
  • Almond Dream
  • So Delicious
  • Trader Joe’s (shelf-stable)
  • Pacific Foods
  • President’s Choice
  • Califia Farms
Almond Milk

  • Whole Foods 365
  • Silk PureAlmond
  • WestSoy
  • Simple Truth
  • Trader Joe’s (refrigerated)
  • Tree of Life
Soy Milk

  • All soy milk not listed to the right contains carrageenan

 

Soy Milk

  • Organic Valley
  • EdenSoy
  • Pacific Foods (organic unsweetened original)
  • WestSoy
  • Trader Joe’s shelf-stable unsweetened (all other TJ’s have carrageenan)
  • Soy Dream
  • Tofu Shop
  • Twin Oaks
Coconut Milk

  • Coconut Dream
  • So Delicious
  • Silk Pure Coconut
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Almond Breeze
  • Zico (chocolate)
Coconut Milk

  • Thai Kitchen
  • Tropical Traditions
  • Cadia
  • Blue Monkey
  • Coconut waters not listed to the right
Coffee Creamer (non-dairy)

  • So Delicious
  • Silk
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Whole Foods 365
  • So Nice
  • Wildwod
Coffee Creamer (non-dairy)

  • Organic Valley
Eggnog

  • Horizon Organic
  • Clover Stornetta
Eggnog

  • Organic Valley
  • Straus Family Creamery

 

By no means is this an exhaustive list. There are MANY other prepared foods, dairy foods, non-dairy alternatives, juices, etc – both organic and conventional – that contain carrageenan.

Here’s a very extensive shopping guide to help you avoid products with carrageenan.

In general, the best ways to minimize your exposure to carrageenan are:

  1. Limit packaged and processed foods.
  2. Read ingredients lists and choose brands that do not use carrageenan.
  3. Make food from scratch when possible (like almond milk – it’s easy!)

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Melanie
    November 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    That’s really interesting. I always assumed it was natural and harmless. I use xanthan gum as a thickener to make frozen yogurt. Should I be concerned about that too?

    • Reply
      Amelia
      November 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      As far as I know, xanthan gum is not considered to be a risky thickener so it’s a good option for home-recipe thickening.

  • Reply
    Debbie
    November 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

    SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHS
    CONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGE

    Q. What is Carrageenan??

    A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.
    On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.
    If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      November 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Carrageenan has been proven unsafe and outlawed in other countries. That the FDA deems something “safe” does not comfort me one bit. They also allow over 10,000 chemical additives in food – only a few of which have actually been studied – and routinely claim all sorts of other ingredients are “safe” when research suggests otherwise. I know of Dr. Tobacman’s research and believe it is valid.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      March 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Debbie aka Debbie Young is posting the FAQ talking points from Ingredient Solutions Inc. on any site that dares call carrageenan into question. Ingredient Solutions just so happens to be the world’s largest carrageenan supplier, by the way, and she just so happens to be listed as an author for them. Interesting, isn’t it?

    • Reply
      Brenda Russell
      November 21, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      We first noticed the ill effects of carrageenan when my husband consistently became ill (stomach upset) after eating ice cream with it in it. Once I became alert to the fact that it was making my husband ill, I started reading labels more carefully, and I found that it is sometimes used in chicken and other foods. Two days ago my husband became ill, and we had no idea what it could be. This morning I poured myself a glass of milk and thought the consistency was a bit strange (viscous), so I looked at the ingredients and, to my surprise, it contained carrageenan (and other additives). My husband had used that milk on his cereal two days ago. Mystery solved! Since neither of us want to deal with unnecessary inflammation, we will not be buying that milk anymore. Now we are aware that we need to be even more vigilant about reading food labels.

      • Reply
        Carol
        June 16, 2018 at 6:17 am

        I noticed my own intolerance of carrageenan through my love of sushi. At first I blamed the raw fish, but the flare ups worsened, became more severe, and occurred even when I didn’t eat sushi. Investigated ingredients and the common denominator was carrageenan. The FDA by all means should force food manufacturers to list this poison on food labels, and thanks to those who clearly label “no carrageenan”.

  • Reply
    Ilana
    February 10, 2014 at 8:28 am

    This is a great list- thanks so much for the resources. I just found your blog and now you have a new local reader! I’m in the LA area. 🙂

    • Reply
      Ilana
      February 10, 2014 at 8:28 am

      So much I mean.

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      February 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      So glad to have connected! I love having local readers 😉

  • Reply
    Iszy
    May 31, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I really hope more information about carrageenan can get out there and make a real customer backlash about how ubiquitous it is in so many foods out there!

    As part of the percentage of people who have extreme/painful reactions when I eat foods containing carrageenan, it is extremely frustrating to 1) see it in everything, 2) have people/companies dismiss my painful cramps, gas, bloating, and food-poisoning like diarrhea when I do accidentally consume carrageenan, 3) that people will say stupid things like “well, you can’t make ice cream without it.” – that’s a lie, because not only have we done so for decades, and not only can anyone at home, but Haagen Dazs does, and Breyer’s used to before they were bought by Unilever. It’s NOT necessary at all, it’s a cheap shortcut to make more profits with inferior products.

    Even if the FDA never pulls its head out of its ass and bans the stuff, it should at least require a warning: “CONTAINS CARRAGEENAN” the same way they do with nut allergies.

  • Reply
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    June 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

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    Carrageenan: What It Is and How to Avoid It – Eating Made Easy

  • Reply
    lej
    September 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I wonder if this is what is give my 4 year old daughter loose stools/diarrhea. She started school this week and I bought big container of Kirkland’s Chocolate milk for her school lunch. And it’s only been three days and I have noticed very loose stools whenever she goes to the restroom. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint it but I’m pretty sure this is it because I prepare her lunch and these is nothing really new in it. She also has peanut and soy allergy so I stress alot about what she eats. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    May 3, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    I have been transitioning my son from a hypoallergenic toddler formula to almond milk. For a while I was making it myself, but my blender broke and I decided to just buy from the store. About that same time, my son started getting terrible eczema. I thought he must be somehow getting dairy (he’s allergic). But for a week I was super careful with everything he ate and the rash was just getting worse. It covered *everything* and he was tearing himself up scratching. It was awful. It finally dawned on me the only thing that had changed was the milk. I looked at the label and researched the ingredients. What I’ve now read about carrageenan makes me certain that is the culprit. He’s only been back on the homemade milk today, but already he’s doing better. The rash is calming down a bit, and he’s not crying and itching in his sleep. I wish doctors could at least give a heads-up to parents of kids with allergies. Maybe it really is “harmless” to most people like Debbie claims, but people can be allergic to anything. This seems like it should at *least* fall into the same category as dairy, eggs, strawberries…. things that all moms are told to watch out for.

  • Reply
    Lynne Kopac
    April 30, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Amelia, nice site. However, you need to update your carrageenan list. So Delicious products do NOT have carrageenan in them anymore. I use their cashew, almond, and coconut milks, in addition to their unsweetened plain coconut-milk-based yogurt. I checked all the labels this morning — no carrageenan. Thanks! Lynne, 04/30/16

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      May 2, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Lynne, thanks for your comment. Are all of these products you mention Organic?

  • Reply
    Tiffany
    March 19, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Silk and Horizon have removed Carrageenan from their products as well! I use both. Carrageenan triggers awful migraines for me unfortunately!

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      March 21, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks for the update, Tiffany!

      • Reply
        Jules
        May 28, 2018 at 11:20 am

        Horizon cottage cheese does not contain carrageenan. A responsible blogger updates their posts.

        • Reply
          Amelia Winslow
          December 7, 2018 at 11:43 am

          Hi Jules,

          Products do change over time. While I agree with you that updates to posts are important, it is often hard for me to to fit this in. I usually provide updates in the comments, and appreciate readers bringing updates to my attention.

          Also, I will point out that I am a human, not an internet robot. Like many of my readers, I am a full-time working parent who is doing my best to keep up with life. Please be kind in the comments you leave on blogs. These are real people you’re speaking to.

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