I hear people talk about carrageenan. What is it, and is it safe to feed to my family?
People certainly are talking about this red seaweed derivative that is often used to thicken food products. So, what is all the hullabaloo? Well, the controversy revolves around research that some people believe shows carrageenan to cause inflammation in our gut that could lead to further medical conditions like intestinal lesions and ulcerative colitis. Now, this research is itself not without controversy as it often relies upon animal models and human cell cultures rather than actual human subjects. Dosing of carrageenan in lab animals and how this applies to what humans actually consume in products, like non-dairy beverages and salad dressings, also are matters of contention.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been petitioned to remove carrageenan from its safe additive list, but the FDA currently has no plans to do so due to lack of research on human subjects. While I don’t often find myself in agreement with the FDA, I would agree that banning the additive at this point is not warranted. That being said, there is continued research looking at how emulsifiers (ingredients that keep the product from separating) and thickeners interfere with the gut’s “good” microbes. Yet, again, these are animal model studies, and, well, “meh” is what I think of that.
If you or a member of your family is prone to intestinal distress by conditions such as Crohn’s and irritable bowel disease, you may want to monitor and/or avoid carrageenan-containing foods. Again, common ones in the vegan diet are non-dairy beverages (though some manufacturers have stopped adding carrageenan due to consumer concerns), veggie burgers, non-dairy desserts (like ice cream and pudding), and salad dressings. When you are emphasizing a diet rich in whole foods, the amount we are consuming on any given day is likely rather minimal.
Disclaimer: Although Anya Todd, R.D. and Kara Rienzo, R.D.N. are registered dietitians, the nutrition content provided on GenerationVeggie.org is for educational and informational purposes only. Any or all changes to your diet and lifestyle should always first be discussed with your professional healthcare providers. GenerationVeggie.org assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences resulting directly or indirectly from any action or inaction you take based on the information found on or material linked to on this website.
Posted in Advice Columns, Everyday Nutrition