Ingredient Profile #5: Carrageenan

In many cultures across the world, green and red seaweed are considered delicacies.  Found in sushi and salads, most people enjoy the flavor and taste of seaweed in certain types of food.  But I’d also venture to say that most people wouldn’t enjoy seaweed in their ice cream.  But that’s exactly what the processed food industry is currently serving up, by the gallon.  Interestingly, carrageenan is extracted from  red seaweed (Zerbe).  It’s been employed by the food industry for three main purposes:

1.  To create a more palatable consistency in certain dairy products (Zerbe).

2.  To make low-fat types of ice cream, milk, yogurt, etc. appear more plentiful (Zerbe).

3.  To keep the ingredients in certain beverages together, and prevent separation (Zerbe).

The problem with using carrageenan in such a hodgepodge of processed food items is that it irritates the digestive system.  Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, Joanne Tobacman, M.D. has done extensive research on the effects of carrageenan on the human body.  Tobacman reports “Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding.”  In addition, she’s discovered a connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer after conducting several experiments with lab animals (Zerbe).

Carrageenan can be found in a variety of different products, including, but not limited to: chocolate, yogurt, soy milk, milk products, milk replacements, frozen dinners, canned soups, broth, and ice cream (Zerbe).  The foolproof way to avoid it is by scanning the product’s ingredient label, but also, the Cornucopia Institute has compiled a Carrageenan Buying Guide that lists out the brands of foods that contain the ingredient and brands of food that don’t (Zerbe).  Here’s the link to the article I used for research on this week’s blog topic (it contains a link to the Cornucopia Institute Carrageenan Buying Guide):

http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet

One of the things that really struck me in my research was the following fact:  Carrageenan could be eliminated from ALL beverages in the United States if food manufacturers replaced the ingredient with a simple reminder for consumers to shake their drinks well (Zerbe).  What do you think it says about the American food system and consumerism in this country that food companies would rather add this ingredient into their products to make them more aesthetically pleasing instead of focusing on the health of their customers?  What do you think this says about the customers?  Let me know!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Zerbe, Leah. “The Natural Ingredient You Should Ban From Your Diet.” Prevention. Rodale, Incorporated. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet>

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3 thoughts on “Ingredient Profile #5: Carrageenan

  1. El

    Hi Katie! This blog is certainly a lot to digest! Does the word carrageenan appear on ingredient labels or is this ingredient disguised to baffle the American public?!?! You are an amazing researcher. I have never heard of carrageenan before… thank you for this information! 😉

  2. Erin

    Oh, no! Say it isn’t true that carrageenan is found in ice cream!!! I”ll have to double check my ice cream labels, we eat it by the gallon in my house. Just a quick question, does carrageenan have any of the same negative inflammatory side effects when eaten in it’s natural form of seaweed?

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