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Is Carrageenan Safe?

Carrageenan is a food additive used as a thickener and fat substitute in a variety of dairy and nondairy products. Concerns about potential intestinal tract damage are placed in the context of dietary consequences.

July 31, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

V. Sirot, F. Hommet, A. Tard, J.-C. Leblanc. Dietary acrylamide exposure of the French population: Results of the second French Total Diet Study. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2012 50(3 - 4):889 - 894

M. S. Brewer. Reducing the fat content in ground beef without sacrificing quality: A review. Meat Sci. 2012 91(4):385 - 395

World Health Organization. Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser. 2011 966:1 - 136

B. Yang, S. Bhattacharyya, R. Linhardt, J. Tobacman. Exposure to common food additive carrageenan leads to reduced sulfatase activity and increase in sulfated glycosaminoglycans in human epithelial cells. Biochimie 2012 94(6):1309 - 1316

A. Borthakur, S. Bhattacharyya, P. K. Dudeja, J. K. Tobacman. Carrageenan induces interleukin-8 production through distinct Bcl10 pathway in normal human colonic epithelial cells. Am. J. Physiol. Gastrointest. Liver Physiol. 2007 292(3):G829 - G838

H. J. Choi, J. Kim, S.-H. Park, K. H. Do, H. Yang, Y. Moon. Pro-inflammatory NF-κB and early growth response gene 1 regulate epithelial barrier disruption by food additive carrageenan in human intestinal epithelial cells. Toxicol. Lett. 2012 211(3):289 - 295

D. R. Lineback, J. M. Jones. Acrylamide in Foods. Nutrition Today 2011 46(5):216-223

S. Bhattacharyya, A. Borthakur, P. K. Dudeja, J. K. Tobacman. Carrageenan induces cell cycle arrest in human intestinal epithelial cells in vitro. J. Nutr. 2008 138(3):469 - 475

P. P. Kirsch. Carrageenan: A safe additive. Environ. Health Perspect. 2002 110(6):A288

J. K. Tobacman, S. Bhattacharyya, A. Borthakur, P. K. Dudeja. The carrageenan diet: Not recommended. Science 2008 321(5892):1040 - 1041

P. Carthew. Safety of carrageenan in foods. Environ. Health Perspect. 2002 110(4):A176 - A177

J. K. Tobacman. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 109(10):983-994.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1990. Training Manual on Gracilaria Culture and Seaweed Processing in China

A. Trius, J. G. Sebranek. Carrageenans and their use in meat products. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1996 36(1-2):69-85.

World Health Organization. 2007. Evaluations of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). Carrageenan.

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to cquintin via Flickr and stu_spivack and National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her keynote help.

Transcript

Six hundred years ago, people living along the coast of Carragheen County, Ireland started using a red algae, which came to be known as Irish moss, to make a jellied dessert, now the source of carrageenan, a food additive used as a thickener in dairy and nondairy products, and as a fat substitute, perhaps most famously in the failed McLean Deluxe.

In 2008 I raised a concern about it. We had known for decades that carrageenan had harmful effects on laboratory animals, but this was the first study done on human cells to "suggest that carrageenan exposure may have a role in development of human intestinal pathology.” This was all 5 years ago, though. What's the update?

Well, after the activation of inflammatory pathways was demonstrated in actual human colon tissue samples, Europe pulled it from infant formula, thinking that just might be getting too much at a vulnerable age. The latest suggests carrageenan consumption could possibly lead to a leaky gut by disrupting the integrity of the tight junctions that form around the cells lining our intestine that form the barrier between the outside world and our bloodstream. This was just an in vitro study, though, in a Petri dish. We still don't know what effects, if any, occur in whole human beings. Some researchers advise consumers to select food products without carrageenan, accusing the FDA of "ignoring [it's] harmful potential."

Personally, after having reviewed the available evidence, I continue to view carrageenan the way I view acrylamide, another potential, but unproven hazard. Acrylamide is a chemical formed by cooking carbohydrates at high temperatures. So should we avoid eating a lot of these foods, like the EPA suggests? Well,  "Food safety concerns must also be considered [in the context of dietary] consequences." Where's it found the most? Foods that are already unhealthy. So, sure, use your concern about the probable carcinogen acrylamide as just another reason to avoid potato chips and French fries, but until we know more, I wouldn't cut out healthful foods like whole grain bread.

Similarly, I'd use potential concerns about carrageenan as additional motivation to avoid unhealthy foods, but until we know more I wouldn't cut out healthful foods, though I would suggest those with inflammatory bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal problems try cutting out carrageenan at least temporarily to see if your symptoms improve.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Titanium dioxide is another additive used in nondairy substitutes. See Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease for the latest on its safety. My acrylamide video can be found at Acrylamide in French Fries.

Other videos on food additives include:

For more context, please refer to the following associated blog post: Should We Avoid Titanium Dioxide and Should Carrageenan be Avoided?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Jessica

    I’ve been wondering about this, especially since two of my favorite vegan products — a creamer and a candy bar — contain it. They both do qualify as junk food, so given the emerging evidence, perhaps it’s time to seek out new delights ….

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I’m so glad I could help!

  • elsie blanche

    Suggestion to all: email and call the vegan companies that add carrageenan to their products……vegan ice creams, almond milks, soy milks, treats, etc….and tell them you are no longer going to be a customer until they remove the carrageenan from the said products. The companies will listen.

    • sanmcm

      Also, many canned dog foods have carrageenan. I expect cat foods as well. The poor animals have no say in what’s in their food. I wrote one company about licorice root in their dog food with possible links to kidney failure as it is harmful for humans; they said their diet experts were not concerned even with animals consuming it every meal.

      • kopns

        It’s true too for cat foods. When choosing food for my cat, I read labels on every brand in the pet store. Majority of them do contain carrageenan along with other fillers. I wound up finding a limited ingredient gluten and grain free brand of food, Simply Nourish, that is just water, tuna, potato, tapioca starch, sunflower oil and added nutrients. Before, my cat was throwing up her food with alarming regularity. In the two weeks since I switched her diet to include both wet and dry forms of Simply Nourish, she hasn’t thrown up once. :)

        • ilse

          A regular diet of Tuna is extemely dangerous for cats and commonly leads to thyroid issues later in life ..it is extremely high in murcury and other contaminants and is so palatable that once cats are hooked on tuna/fish its very hard to get them off anything else.

          Skip the tuna. Really, ..not good at all. A raw diet is ideal, but if you cant find/make a good one with all essential enzymes etc, look for a LID (limited ingredient) wet food ..one protein source and one carb (not the same as grain) can be potato etc

          • ilse

            **off the tuna and to eat anything else

          • Katlover

            Instinct canned, Weruva Cats in the Kitchen canned, and Fancy Feast classic formulas do not contain carrageenan. Raw food is the best, but you’ll need to experiment. My cat does fine on Primal raw, but throws up the Instinct raw (though he’s fine with canned, go figure?) Like with human food, you have to read the labels on everything, and avoid the bad stuff.

        • ilse

          Also, adding a probiotic to her diet will help with the throwing up

      • Lawrence

        Suggest you consider feeding your cat or dog a raw foods diet. http://www.rawfedcats.org/feedingraw.htm

    • Dazzle59

      Elsie, I wrote to Turtle Mountain Foods back in May, and asked them to remove carrageenan from their So Delicious Coconut Milk products (I love the creamer, beverage, yogurt and frozen dessert, which all contain it). I was told that they are reformulating these products and will be removing the carrageenan sometime in the future. In the meantime, I am making do with Organic Valley Soy Creamer (no carrageenan, but doesn’t taste as good) and Whole Foods Organic Almond Milk, one of the few non-dairy mylks that doesn’t contain carrageenan. The stuff is in everything!

      • emeric_salzberg

        So Delicious Almond Milk doesn’t contain carrageenan, unlike Silk and Almond Breeze.

        • ineugene

          I just looked up this product on their site and the list of ingredients includes carrageenan. (08-12-2013)

          • emeric_salzberg

            I’m sorry. Silk AlmondMilk is actually the one without carrageenan (although most of their other non-dairy products include it.) I wish this weren’t the case because I’d much rather support Turtle Mountain over Dean Foods.

  • Brighde

    Great and informative video. Thank you.

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    I’ve always wondered what your take on this was because of the reliability with which carrageenan causes inflammation. It is used very successfully and frequently to induce inflammation in rats and mice to test the efficacy of anti-inflammatory products, foods and medicines. And a search on pubmed ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=carrageenan+and+inflammation ) yields greater than 3500 hits for Carrageenan and Inflammation.

    So for my patients that have severe inflammatory issues (fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Crohns Disease etc.) I do warn against this additive as well.
    So who carries carrageenan free almond milk?
    Whole Foods Market used to have a store brand Organic Almond Milk that didn’t contain carrageenan but it was pulled from the shelves because it was found to not be organic.
    So I direct these patients that like almond milk to Trader Joe’s because their store brand of almond milk is Carrageenan free.
    Thanks for the update!

    • Kevin

      Silk Pure Almond also has no carrageenan.

      • Mike Quinoa

        In Canada, Natur-a brand soy milk has no carrageenan, is organic and non-GMO—my fave.

    • http://www.whosyourvet.com/ fastwhippets

      I buy Whole Foods 365 Organic Almond milk unsweetened & it doesn’t have carrageenan. Ingredients: organic almondmilk (filtered water, organic almonds), tricalcium phosphate, sea salt, potassium citrate, organic locust bean gum, gellan gum, organic sunflower lecithin, vit A palmitate, ergocalciferol (vit D2), DL-alpha tocopherol acetate (Vit E).

      I knew about carrageenan for years and avoid it. Always read labels even with prepared foods. I noticed Costco’s prepared foods contain carrageenan.

      If you’re buying canned dog food, read the label. Chances are carrageenan is in it.

      Toothpaste from health food markets also may contain carrageenan. Read the label.

    • Rsa

      Whole Foods brand, 365, has organic almond milk without carrageenan and it is the only brand w/o it that I have been able to find in NYC. Trader Joe’s organic brand, in fact, does contain carrageenan.

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

        Interesting about your Trader Joe’s Brand. I buy their Almond milk (it doesn’t say Organic) and I just read the label again and there is no Carrageenan. Maybe NYC gets their Almond milk from a different manufacturer.

    • HereHere

      Great point! I have mild osteoarthritis (self-diagnosed), so I will try to avoid this for a while. Such a shame that seaweed could be inflammatory. I guess pharmaceutical researchers use it because it is cheaper than meat.

  • Lisa S

    Thanks for this great video! It confirms what I already know to be true…I have Crohn’s disease and through the elimination of some foods, I realized that carageenan was a common denominator in an increase in my symptoms. I avoid it like the plague, but it is frustrating to find it in many organic versions of foods (whipping cream, non-dairy milks, etc).

  • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

    Just another nail in the coffin of processed foods – vegan or not. Eat food that look like food – avoid food with a long ingredient list. Broccoli contains broccoli !

    • HereHere

      I only hope you a right (that it is a nail in the coffin of processed foods).

  • Brinda

    Wow, I’m glad to finally have that question answered! I’ve wondered. My husband recently found a soy milk at walmart with pretty simple ingredients and minus the carageenan. Guess we’ll be sticking with that from now on :)

    • http://www.whosyourvet.com/ fastwhippets

      It might be minus the carageenan, but “Soy” is GMO if it’s not organic.

      • HereHere

        I am not a big fan of walmart, but I know my local one has organic soymilk. Haven’t checked for carageenan, though.

        • b00mer

          Same here. In fact, all of the tofu and tempeh at my local grocery stores is organic (with most being specifically non-gmo project certified), and the soy milks are about half organic and half non. When buying specifically soy foods, I don’t think finding organic is a problem. People that eat processed foods with soy *in* them are probably consuming a lot more non-organic/gmo soy.

  • Kevin

    Interesting blogs this week for me as an Ulcerative Colitis sufferer. I have been avoiding carrageenan for years since I heard it was used to induce UC in lab mice. Always keeping my ears pricked for a potential silver bullet, I recently came across something suggesting an intolerance of dietary sulfur as a potential contributor for IBD, particularly in encouraging already active disease, as I recall. Interestingly, carrageenan was cited from at least one source as a food extremely high in sulfur. Suspecting a possible correlation, I just had to try a low-/high-sulfur diet comparison to see if I could tell a difference from one week to the next. Unfortunately, there was no revelation to be had for me regarding dietary sulfur restriction. Still, thought some might find it worth hearing.

  • Thea

    This video is so disappointing to me. One of the things I like to make is vegan cheeses made out of nuts. My favorite vegan cheese cookbook is called Artisan Vegan Cheeses. Many of the recipes are carageenan-free, but the *meltable*!!! ones, which make *awesome* cheeses, use carageenan. Plus, I hate the texture that agar produces and love the texture that cargeenan produces.

    The one glimmer of light I take from this is the sentence about putting carageenan risk in the context of the whole diet. I assume that some carageenan nut cheese is probably OK. The problem is that I just don’t know how much is OK and I do drink a lot of almond milk and sometimes soy milk. I do try to get Trader Joes brand, but they don’t always have it in.

    Thanks for this video. I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see what you had to say. I was just hoping for a different outcome. ;-(

    • Thea

      A related ingredient used by many of the nut cheeses in the book I mentioned above is xathan gum. If you have any information on xathan gum, I’d appreciate learning about it in the future.

      • gb

        I did a “Google Scholar” search using keywords “xanthan gum” & “human health;” i could not find anything negative regarding xanthan gum.

        • Thea

          gb: That was so kind of you! Thanks for taking the time to do that. That’s encouraging news…

      • Darryl

        Xanthan gum has been studied far less than carageenan, and for every paper looking at it specifically there appear to be hundreds that mention its use as an “inactive” ingredient in controlled release drug formulations. A tough slog.

        There are no concerns with toxicity in long term xanthan gum feeding experiments, and xanthan gum has been injected in arthritic joints with no ill effect, perhaps some improvement.

        This study found xanthan gum induced interleukin-12 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha production in mice, which I believe might be considered signs of inflammation, but in this case also happened to stimulate immune responses to cancer and retarded tumor growth.

        • Thea

          Darryl: Wow. That’s great info. And a very good point in regards to: no information does not necessarily mean no bad effects.

          I really appreciate you posting this info. If nothing else, while my brand of almond milk does not have carrageenan in it, it DOES have xathan gum.

          Thank you too for taking the time to check this out. I bet lots of people (not just me) will really appreciate it.

    • Ilana

      That’s exactly what I was going to post! Aren’t her recipes incredible?!

      • Thea

        Yes!!! I’ve enjoyed being an artisan cheese maker. :-) And really, you could skip the recipes with carrageenan in them. But my thought is: If I get carrageenan out of my diet most other ways, then sometimes having it in my nut cheese might not be so bad. That’s the story I’m telling myself right now anyway. If nothing else, I still have a very expensive container of carrageenan sitting in my cupboard. Can’t let that go to waste, now can I? ;-)

        • Ilana

          That’s my hope. Since I have soymilk at least once a day, I’m hoping that even if I have it in my occasional meltable cheese, getting it out of my daily soymilk to good enough….? :-)

          • Ilana

            I emailed Miyoko about this video. She’s great at returning emails (which makes her 1000x more fantastic in my mind), so we’ll she what she says. :-(

            I also started buying WestSoy and EdenSoy unsweetened shelf stable soy milk since I don’t like almond or rice milk, etc. I emailed Silk and put a comment on 365 Soymilk page about it. I think this video has caused quite a stir in the vegan community, so hopefully we can cause some change with our dollars.

    • gb

      Yes my sentiments too– i was quite disappointed because up until now i preferred the non-dairy drinks that had carrageenan, owing to the creamier consistency. My taste buds are capable of adapting however; the science leads the way.

      • Thea

        gb: On the topic of adapting taste buds: That’s a good point. Though I think there is a genetic limit to how much we can adapt, it is wonderful that humans have this capability. It makes it possible to eat healthy AND happy.

  • TaxpayerX

    For those who use soy milk and wish to avoid carrageenan and other suspect ingredients–buy a quality soy milk maker and select your own high quality ingredients. Making soy milk is easy and the cost savings will pay for the machine in short order.

    • HereHere

      I’ve been meaning to try a soy milk maker. Do you have a brand recommendation, for taste, ease of cleaning, etc?

      • Kyle Key

        I’m using the SoyaJoy G4 to good effect.

        Here’s my process: soak or sprout 3/4 cup dry organic soybeans, then add to the machine with 1/4 cup dry organic brown rice or oats (for creaminess), fill water to the 1700ml line; you’ve got about six cups of sprouted soymilk less than thirty minutes later.

        Pour it through a nut milk bag–I find bags to be far better at filtering out pulp than included strainers–then whisk in 1/4 tsp sea salt (I use pink Himalayan), 2.5 tsp of calcium carbonate (provides ~500mg calcium per cup, all which your body probably won’t absorb, but I’ve accounted for that), 1 drop of 1000IU liquid vitamin d2 or half of a pulverized 2400IU vitamin d2 pill (120-200IU vitamin d per cup), and just enough vanilla extract to subtly change the flavor, maybe 1 tsp, without making it taste of vanilla.

        The final cost depends heavily on what you can get everything for, but I calculated the cost at $2/lb for the soybeans, and altogether it comes out to less than eighty cents per half gallon for unsweetened, sprouted, organic, calcium and vitamin d-fortified soymilk, as opposed to $3+ retail.

        • HereHere

          Thanks Kyle! SoyaJoy G4. I think I can find that one easily around here. Those are great tips, too, especially about oats for creaminess! I’m also thinking of a vitamix or alternative, and I’ve heard they do soymilk, too. Decisions, decisions…

          • Kyle Key

            A Vitamix could easily make soy or nut/grain milks as well, the only difference is that you’d have to cook the soybeans separately first to remove more of the phytic acid, whereas a dedicated milk maker will do the cooking for you. And the milk maker is a lot cheaper. But if you have the money, I’d just say go for the blender since it can do more.

  • Shineydada

    Our family drinks a mix of soymilks and nut/rice milks, all without carageenan. For almond milk we use the Pacific Foods brand — Organic Original Almond. For Soymilk we use the Organic Original soymilk from WestSoy (we mix the sweetened and unsweetened versions to bring down the overall sugar levels). For rice milk we’ve been blending our own in a Vitamix from organic brown rice and mixing with Rice Dream – Original, which has no carageenan.

    • gb

      Thanks for the brand recommendations. Looks like i’ll be switching to these. The preponderance of research indicates that carrageenan be omitted from the diet (sigh).

    • Jane Smith

      FYI: I think Pacific actually does have carageenan…

  • Clarence

    I have Crohns disease and avoid gluten and milk (I’m vegan). I’ve noticed that I don’t react well to vegan cheeses which probably contain carrageenan. So this may be a link. Also, I’ve noticed a sensitivity to soy, but seem to do well when I culture unsweetened soy milk into a kefir. So, this is great stuff to experiment with and I think I’ll try and make my own nut milks–that way I can control the processes and the cooking process, which seems to be linked to inflammatory issues. By the way, I seem to do better with the Crohns when I exercise regularly. Do you have some links to managing Crohns disease? Thanks!

    • Thea

      re: “…I think I’ll try and make my own nut milks–that way I can control the processes and the cooking process…”

      For almond milk, the recipe that I have used in the past involved grinding up soaked, raw almonds. No cooking at all. :-)

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I have just the video! Check out:
      Dietary Treatment of Crohn’s Disease

  • Emm

    Umm, soymilk isn’t healthy…. did you seriously just say in this video soymilk is a health food??! I am amazed. It’s all kinds of harmful.

    • Thea

      Emm: If you watch other videos on this site, you will see why soy milk is healthy. I know there is a lot of negative information out there about soy, but as you know, just because something is on the internet does not make it true.

      Here at NutrtionFacts, you can learn about what the science has to say about various subjects, including soy. Sources are sited under each video and Dr. Greger reviews literally thousands of studies every year in order to present an accurate big picture of what the studies tell us. What this means is that while you can no doubt find a study to tell you anything you want to hear, the key is to find out what the “body of evidence” tells us . The key is to find out if there is overwhelming evidence one way or another on a particular subject. Luckily our scientists have created a body of evidence which do give us relatively clear, overwhelming information on a wide range of nutritional subjects.

      Good luck.

      • gb

        Again, my sentiments. You beat me to the punch. People need to cite studies if they want to make (controversial) claims. This is obviously a pro-vegan website, so no need to provide citations for avoiding animal products, but if you are going to counter Doctor G’s statements– back it up with studies from peer-reviewed journals!

        • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

          I view this site as a pro-healthy-eating website, not pro-vegan. If meat, eggs, dairy and fish where health-foods, then the topics would be about that. The bulk of evidence just happens to tells us to avoid (or seriously limit) animal-products. It is always OK to counter everything with reasonable arguments. Peer-review does not necessarily mean that it is the truth – it is often more complicated than that.

      • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

        Speak it out loud, sistah! :)

  • Bhavna Sharma

    My mother suffers from Lupus, I somehow managed to stop her having dairy and we are on soya milk, the alpro make. Anyone know if that is bad too? and where I could find soy milk or almond without Carrageenan? Thanks

  • Bhavna Sharma

    Hey, Thank you for this video. Where can I buy soy milk or almond milk without carrageenan from in the UK?? please.

    My mother suffers from lupus and I somehow managed to get her to drink soy instead of dairy, we are drinking the Alpro make. Not sure if thats bad too??

    Thank you!!

  • kopns

    Very good point that carrageenan is mostly found in foods that shouldn’t be part of a regular healthy diet. The only item I regularly consume that may contain carrageenan is non dairy milk. After reading labels on all the milk varieties available at my local supermarkets, I chose to stick with oat milk because it had the purest ingredient list next to rice milk. I prefer oat milk for it’s overall mouthfeel and flavor for use in teas and coffee, but I use rice milk when I need a large amount in recipes.

    I’ve also found that carrageenan is added to toothpaste. Old habits die hard, and I prefer a tooth paste over a gel. Since I’m spitting it out, I don’t concern myself with the carrageenan.

  • Jess

    Does this include raw Irish moss? It’s used a lot in raw vegan desserts.

    • Darryl


      Chondrus crispus
      in its natural state is 55% carrageenan.

  • Ilana

    Man, this was not the result I was hoping for. And I noticed that all three carrageenan types were shown in that graph. Now I have to find a soy milk that’s non-GMO, unsweetened, and without carrageenan. (I don’t like the other non-dairy milks.) Any suggestions?!

    • what

      Eden Organics, though it is not fortified either

    • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

      Not sure if you have the time, but perhaps you can try making your own non-dairy milk. A quick search online resulted in quite a few recipes that seem relatively quick and easy to make.

      • Ilana

        Uch that’ll never happen. (Despite being willing to make my own cheese, I’m too lazy to make soy milk.)

        • Darryl

          Soy milk is actually one of the easiest non-dairy milks, especially if you use one of the dozens of automatic soymilk makers. These can also be used for making tofu at home, as tofu is a pressed coagulate of soymilk protein made using gypsum or nigari

          That said, Asian soymilk has a very different flavor from the kind adapted for Western tastes, much closer to liquid edamane than dairy milk. This is one reason for all the sweeteners and flavor additives. I personally couldn’t stomach it.

          • Ilana

            Yeah though if I make my own, that wouldn’t be fortified either. I guess I have to choose which is more important. Hopefully if I eat enough leafy greens and such, non fortified soy milk is okay?

          • HereHere

            You will need a vegan B12 supplement, but if you eat your rainbow, you should be otherwise fine. If you live in a cloudy or northern area, especially if over 50, a vitamin D would be great. I use D2, which is vegan, but is less effective or at least not well absorbed. I have seen ads for a vegan D3, but you may have to order it online.

          • b00mer

            Good to know! Thanks for the info about the taste difference.

    • Becky

      Westsoy has a soy milk that only contains soy beans and water.

  • Hejunjie

    I caught wind of this ingredient after looking into the Dairy Queen Blizzard (which, unfortunately, I thoroughly enjoy no more). I appreciate your insight on this as I was curious about knowing more as well. Seems that the jury is still deliberating, but you are absolutely right that the food where we find Carrageenan is typically unhealthy anyway so we should avoid it as a precaution.

    By the way, love your site and the topics.

  • Dart

    Dr Greger, my question is this. What is the relation to carrageenan and Irish Moss in it’s natural state. As a raw foodist i find that Irish Moss is a wonderful component to making certain desserts such as raw cheesecakes. is there a difference>? I am hesitant to throw out the Irish Moss because I believe that the information you present is more for “processed” and “heated” forms of these certain drinks on the market that are mass produced for consumption. -thank you, Dart

  • Donna T.

    I am a bit confused…several people posted their chosen brands of almond milk stating that they are carrageenan free. I was just at Trader Joe’s a few days ago to check and both Trader Joe’s brand almond milk and the Pacific brand both contain carrageenan. I only buy regular, non sweetened, organic almond milk so what’s the deal? I am in the U.S., is it possible these companies sell carrageenan-free almond milk in some places but not others?

    • Veganrunner

      Donna I know what you mean. What I do is stand in front of the alternative milk and search the labels. I have not found it at TJs either. Takes time doesn’t it?

    • Thea

      Donna: That’s so interesting. Because of the discussion on this site, I checked my TJ’s almond milk ingredients just this morning – and no carragenan. I don’t know if it’s relevant or not, but I get the one that is unsweetened, but with vanilla added.

      So, either you are using a different version or TJ’s has different formulas in different parts of the country. The latter would be concerning to me.

  • Matt G.

    I wrote to Silk and their PR response was rather disappointing. They belittled a researcher who studies this, Dr. Tobacman, and rationalized its use by referring to in an industry sponsored review paper.

    • Matt G.

      Here is their response:

      Thank you for your recent e-mail to Silk®. We appreciate your interest in our products.

      When developing new products, we look for nutritional, ingredient, and flavor profiles that have a broad appeal to a wide variety of consumer tastes and preferences.

      Carrageenan is a naturally occurring thickener derived from red seaweed. It is also known as chondrus extract or Irish moss. There are two different types of carrageenan, food-grade and degraded. Silk® Soymilk uses only food-grade carrageenan as a natural thickening agent. It is used in many other food products such as cottage and cream cheeses, pie fillings, chocolate products, ice cream and salad dressings, among others. Degraded carrageenanis never used as a food ingredient.

      Recently there has been some negative press on the safety of carrageenan. An article published in 2001 by Joanne Tobacman, a researcher at the University of Iowa, claimed that carrageenan may cause lesions or cancer in the gastro intestinal tract (Tobacman: Env. Health Per., Vol. 109, No. 10, Oct 2001). However, the Tobacman study was performed using only degraded carrageenan, not food-grade carrageenan, an entirely different substance.

      Many consumers express concern that stomach acid could turn food-grade carrageenan into degraded carrageenan during the digestion process. However numerous studies on the digestion of food-grade carrageenan have shown that “it is either not degraded, not degraded to the same molecular weight, or not degraded in the same way” as the degraded form, and that the limited degradation that has been detected, has had “no effect on the gut wall”
      (Sept., 2003 http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v19je05.htm).

      The safety of food-grade carrageenan was substantiated at a joint meeting of the FAO/WHO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in June 2001. JECFA recommended an Acceptable Daily Intake of “not specified”, the most favorable ADI a food additive can receive. The JECFA review was based on extensive safety studies of food-grade carrageenan, including evaluation of such matters as degradation and carcinogenicity.

      Additionally, a review paper by Samuel Cohen, M.D., Ph.D and Dr. Nobuyuki Ito, adopted by the JEFCA in their deliberations, evaluated and rebutted the evidence of claims of carcinogenity. The paper states, “In long term bioassays, carrageenan has not been found to be carcinogenic, and there is no credible evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect or a tumor-promoting effect on the colon in rodents.” Drs. Cohen and Ito are well-known and respected cancer researchers.

      A review of existing scientific literature indicates that food-grade carrageenan is safe for all food uses. It is neither toxic nor carcinogenic. Silk products contain only the highest quality food-grade carrageenan available. We will continue to use only natural and safe ingredients in all of our products.

      Although we regret that Silk® products do not meet your specific needs, we hope you give one of our many different products a try.

      We hope this information is helpful.

      • Kyle Key

        There’s no belittling there.

  • Nan

    I emailed Silk and shared the link to above video. I asked them if they had any plans to remove carrageenan or had any products without it. This is their response…basically they are saying that food grade carrageenan is safe and that the studies showing it was harmful were done with degraded carrageenan. Is food grade carrageenan safe?

    Thank you for your
    recent e-mail to Silk®. We appreciate your interest in our
    products.

    Carrageenan is a naturally
    occurring thickener derived from red seaweed. It is also known as chondrus
    extract or Irish moss. There are two different types of carrageenan, food-grade
    and degraded. Silk® Soymilk uses only food-grade carrageenan as a natural
    thickening agent. It is used in many other food products such as cottage and
    cream cheeses, pie fillings, chocolate products, ice cream and salad dressings,
    among others. Degraded carrageenan is never used as a food
    ingredient.

    Recently there has been some
    negative press on the safety of carrageenan. An article published in 2001 by
    Joanne Tobacman, a researcher at the University of Iowa, claimed that
    carrageenan may cause lesions or cancer in the gastro intestinal tract
    (Tobacman: Env. Health Per., Vol. 109, No. 10, Oct 2001). However, the Tobacman
    study was performed using only degraded carrageenan, not food-grade carrageenan,
    an entirely different substance.

    Many
    consumers express concern that stomach acid could turn food-grade carrageenan
    into degraded carrageenan during the digestion process. However numerous studies
    on the digestion of food-grade carrageenan have shown that “it is either not
    degraded, not degraded to the same molecular weight, or not degraded in the same
    way” as the degraded form, and that the limited degradation that has been
    detected, has had “no effect on the gut wall”
    (Sept., 2003 http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v19je05.htm).

    The safety of food-grade carrageenan was substantiated at a
    joint meeting of the FAO/WHO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
    and the World Health Organization) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives
    (JECFA) in June 2001. JECFA recommended an Acceptable Daily Intake of “not
    specified”, the most favorable ADI a food additive can receive. The JECFA review
    was based on extensive safety studies of food-grade carrageenan, including
    evaluation of such matters as degradation and
    carcinogenicity.

    Additionally, a review
    paper by Samuel Cohen, M.D., Ph.D and Dr. Nobuyuki Ito, adopted by the JEFCA in
    their deliberations, evaluated and rebutted the evidence of claims of
    carcinogenity. The paper states, “In long term bioassays, carrageenan has not
    been found to be carcinogenic, and there is no credible evidence supporting a
    carcinogenic effect or a tumor-promoting effect on the colon in rodents.” Drs.
    Cohen and Ito are well-known and respected cancer
    researchers.

    A review of existing
    scientific literature indicates that food-grade carrageenan is safe for all food
    uses. It is neither toxic nor carcinogenic. Silk products contain only the
    highest quality food-grade carrageenan available. We will continue to use only
    natural and safe ingredients in all of our products.

    Our Silk® Pure Almondmilk products do not contain
    Carrageenan.

    We hope this information is
    helpful.

    Sincerely,
    John
    Davila
    Consumer Response Representative

    Ref: N1811841

  • Zuri

    Thanks so much for this! Like Jessica, I have been wondering about this ingredient for years. I believe my almond milk is the only product I have with it but I recently started making my own milk so that eliminates that!

    • Thea

      Zuri: I wouldn’t mind making my own almond milk, but I have three issues with it. I’m curious if any of these issues bother you:

      1) Calcium. I could get all the calcium I need from greens, but I’m not very good yet about eating a steady amount of say kale. So, I rely on the solid 1 to 1.5 cups of almond milk that I drink every day to supplement the calcium I get from my food. If I drank the almond milk I made myself, I wouldn’t have the added calcium I get from store products. Does this concern you?

      2) Grit. I use a fine strainer, but the home-made I have tried to make always comes out (while of superior! taste) a bit gritty. I am very sensitive to texture. Do you have this problem? (I have made my almond milk in a commercial blender. I try not to go at full strength so that the pieces are big enough to catch in the strainer. But it never fully works out.)

      3) Storage. I don’t want to be making individual portions of milk every time I want some. So, I would want to make a big batch which I store in an air tight container. I don’t want to store in plastic and most of the available glass pitchers are pretty small. I did actually find one glass pitcher on Amazon that was a) big enough and b) had a good lid, but it was a hard find. And I wonder if there is something better out there. I’m curious what you do for storage.

      Just wondering. I would understand of course if you don’t have time to reply. And I would be interested if anyone else wants to comment on these issues.

      • Zuri

        Hey Thea!

        Very valid concerns. I can offer some suggestions…

        1) Calcium. In all honesty, I do not pay enough attention to calcium as I probably should/probably will a bit later in life. I would however look at the amount of calcium present in almonds (or any other nuts you may add to the mix–I love cashew milk and I’m going to start mixing some nuts together to make milks and also “cheese” spreads). Also, look into what source is used to add calcium to the milk you consume. Maybe a simple calcium supplement would be equivalent?

        2) Straining. I know the grit you are referring to :) Throw some cheese cloth on top of the strainer before straining the mixture and reap the glorious benefits of using cheese cloth (a nice food quality brand–not a cleaning brand because it is much more permeable)! Feel free to blend the nuts as finely as you like–the cheese cloth will catch everything and you can wring it out to squeeze all the “milk” out. The remaining nut pulp can apparently be dried out and used as flour but I have yet to take that next step. I get my cheese cloth at Bed Bath & Beyond. I think It’s the only brand they sell–comes in a clear bag with a natural, cardboard label with black font.

        ALSO, I just got hip to a recipe that may change your life! I haven’t done this yet but apparently you can make your nut milks by blending NUT BUTTER with water, vanilla, sea salt, etc. I personally use dates to sweeten practically everything and they make the milk delicious (the longer the dates are in your liquid being sweetened, the sweeter it gets just FYI). If this works out, it will cut out some time consuming steps and leave more time to experiment with ingredients.

        3) Storage. I honestly recycle old glass bottles of all sizes and hope I have a future use for them. I put a batch of milk in an old rum bottle…then I started playing around with rum milk…lol yeah. But I typically do not consume the milk after 3-5 days (the new recipe may help extend that shelf life a few days tho). As far as sealing off some milk in an airtight container I have not done this but I’m sure you can find some info out there on how to preserve things that way.

        I hope this helps!!

        • Thea

          Zuri: Awesome reply! Thanks for taking the time write out your response. I particularly like the cheese cloth idea. I also have a nut milk bag, but I haven’t tried using it yet. I sort of figured it wouldn’t necessarily be any better than the fine strainer.

          Also, the calcium issue is still a big one for me. I hate to take supplements if I can avoid it and I don’t want to get too much calcium.

          I really like that idea of starting out with a nut butter. I’m going to look into that.

          Thanks!!!

  • http://bhami.com/ Bruce A. Hamilton

    There is no such thing as “Carragheen County, Ireland”. According to http://www.seaweed.ie/uses_general/carrageenans.php, there may be a place called Carrigan Head in County Donegal, but even that does not show up in Google Maps nor in Bing Maps. So the origin of the name is unclear.

  • Jill

    Can you PLEASE tell me if using Irish moss (preparing it from the seaweed itself) is better for you than Carrageenan ? I have used and like the irish moss you soak or boil to make a gell like substance, I would hope that it not being processed makes it a better alternative.

  • Jess

    Does this mean raw vegan desserts made with Irish moss are also a problem?

  • Suzanne

    Dr. Greger: Would you please comment on this research as I cannot understand it. I have CLL and have kept it controlled with a vegan diet. Once had total white cell count of 90,000; now over 20 years later: 24,000. I use Silk Soy with carrageenan. Should I stop?

  • Suzanne

    Oops: here is the research paper:
    J Biol Chem. 2010 Jan 1;285(1):522-30. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.050815. Epub 2009 Nov 6.
    B-cell
    CLL/lymphoma 10 (BCL10) is required for NF-kappaB production by both
    canonical and noncanonical pathways and for NF-kappaB-inducing kinase
    (NIK) phosphorylation.

  • Shawna

    Is there any research on the use of Irish Moss as a whole food used infrequently in small quantities (raw vegan treats), not just the isolated component (carageenan) like in store bought almond milk or in daily food items (quantity/frequency of ingestion). Does this make a difference whether whole or processed form or is the Irish Moss something to completely eradicate from the diet? Seems the Irish folks who used the whole food didn’t have leaky gut or colon cancer concerns..

    Weren’t the human studies on cadaver colon? Living humans have a variety of immune, metabolic, digestive pathways that really cannot be compared to a dead one when doing these type of tests.

  • Enid Lemley

    So….could we then expect that all sea weeds, like dulse, komba, ect to be inflammatory?

  • celticvegan

    Would you please comment in laymen’s terms on the following?
    I have CLL and have controlled it with a vegan diet for over 20 years. Should I avoid carrageenan containing products like Silk soy milk?
    J Biol Chem. 2010 Jan 1;285(1):522-30. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.050815. Epub 2009 Nov 6.
    B-cell CLL/lymphoma
    10 (BCL10) is required for NF-kappaB production by both canonical and
    noncanonical pathways and for NF-kappaB-inducing kinase (NIK)
    phosphorylation.
    Bhattacharyya S, Borthakur A, Tyagi S, Gill R, Chen ML, Dudeja PK, Tobacman JK.
    Source
    Department of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA.

  • colonyofcells delacruz

    Carrageenan is a processed refined food derived from Irish Moss seaweed. Irish Moss seaweed can also be used as a thickener and I wonder if the natural food Irish Moss seaweed would be safer than carrageenan.

  • Steven Anthony Jolly

    Is bee pollen helpful?

  • AMee

    I love gelatin, but the problem is all jelly in this stupid bad country is made of carageenan, many foods are mix with that. I notice I get stomach bloating and pain when I eat gelatin. I can’t find gelatin that is made of animal collagen.

    • Thea

      AMee: Some people use “agar” (or agar agar) to make a fruit “jello”. It works pretty well and allows you to avoid both animal products (like gelatin) and carageenan. You might want to look into it.

      Good luck.

  • RappFan

    Dr Andrew Weil published an A in a Q&A on his site that included research by Dr. Joanne Tobacman that discussed the previous assertion that undegraded carrageenan was ok but degraded carrageenan was not. Her study concluded that all forms of carrageenan are capable of causing inflammation. This article was from Oct 1 2012 and I’m shocked that so many products, including Orgain, use it still.

  • Mary Lynn

    what about Dr. Baylocks assertion that carrageenan activates the COX-2 enzyme which can accelerate cancer growth?

  • Corpseman57

    I have a real problem with carageenan. I break out in painful, itchy blisters when I consume it. It took me over a decade to discover the culprit.

    I could scream every time I read a comment about how safe carrageenan is. The authors must work as P.R. reps for the big food companies.

  • ofset

    Thank you. Im hoping this has been the cause of intestinal problems since recently drinking a lot of Silk Vanilla Almond milk.

  • Chris Hartley

    I just checked my Soy milk (Vitasoy reduced fat in Australia), it only has Gum Arabic (E414)

  • Ingredients Solutions

    The scientific community at large continues affirmation that carrageenan is safe for even the most vulnerable populations. The esteemed and independent scientific body that reviews food additives for the World Health Organization, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), announced this June a scientific review finding carrageenan safe even for use in infant formula.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer is the body which advises the World Health Organization on cancer risks for substances and their findings for carrageenan clearly state that “Native (undegraded) carrageenan was tested for carcinogenicity in rats and hamsters by administration in the diet; no evidence of carcinogenicity was found”

    JECFA’s thorough review considered the entire body of available scientific research on carrageenan safety for all population,
    incorporating the most relevant research into its final decision.

    All dietary studies intended to simulate the conditions of actual human consumption of carrageenan have found carrageenan to be safe,
    including a recent study of neonatal pigs that replicated the conditions of human infants consuming carrageenan in infant formula and found no safety concerns even in this most vulnerable population.

    Long-term studies of rodents and primates fed carrageenan
    (including infant baboons) have also found no indication of harm,
    carcinogenicity, or negative effects from carrageenan on the intestinal tract or other organ systems in test animals.

    There is no lack of information on the safety of carrageenan. There is simply continued mischaracterization and misapplication of science regarding this important additive.

    • Thea

      Ingredients Solutions: I wonder why you call it an important additive. To me, important additive would be one that prevents disease because people can’t get that substance naturally and they need it. Even if you were right, and I’m not saying one way or the other, but even if you were right that carrageenenan is safe in amounts eaten normally by most humans, I don’t see how that makes it an “important additive.” What is your definition of an important additive? Note that this site promotes whole plant food based eating as the diet that optimizes nutrition and health.

      Your name, “Ingredients Solutions” is interesting. Where does that come from?