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What the Heck is Carrageenan? And Could It Really Kill You?

How is it like poison ivy for your gut?

Carrageenan is extracted from seaweed, so it’s thought to be a natural substance. It is FDA approved for food and is used frequently as a thickener. It shows up frequently in things like low-fat dairy or dairy, where it substitutes for fat, creating a fatty mouthfeel, as a stabilizer for beverages like chocolate milk that would otherwise need shaking or stirring, and as a binder in things like processed meats.

But research over the course of 40 years has demonstrated that it can cause cancer, inflammation, and intestinal damage. With inflammation of the gut front and center these days—think gluten, which also irritates the gut—we’re more mindful than ever of the importance of intestinal health.

The Cornucopia Institute has rallied against carrageenan and filed FDA petitions. Its report on carageenan is available here: Carrageenan Report. The group says, "carrageenan appears to do to your gut what poison ivy does to your skin."

Carrageenan isn’t even necessary in foods, it’s just convenient because it makes foods thicker. Luckily, this makes it pretty easy to avoid too (and we don’t just mean by eating only farm-grown fruits, veggies, dairy, and meat). By law, carrageenan has to be listed on a product's ingredient label. Click here for a shopping list of common packaged foods and the companies that still use or have banned carrageenan from their products.

If the verdict is still out on the safety of carrageenan but it’s easy to avoid, why wouldn’t you play it safe?


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