Carra-what? Chances are good that you have never even heard of this natural additive before. It's a commonly found substance in low-fat milk, milk-replacements (almond or coconut, for example), cottage cheeses, yogurts, chocolates, and ice creams. Used to make low-fat variations appear thicker in consistency and texture, the emulsifier is derived from red seaweed called "Irish Moss."
Though it comes from the Earth, it's important to remember that the word "natural" doesn't automatically denote "healthy." According to many studies, this natural seaweed has been shown to cause chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and can result in ulcers and bleeding. This is bad news for anyone, but it's especially bad for those afflicted with known digestive problems such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Crohn's Disease. In fact, many people who believe they are lactose intolerant may actually be suffering from sensitivity to carrageenan.
Some reports given by The Cornucopia Institute in 2013 suggest that ingesting carrageenan can have worse side-effects leading to malignant tumors, and many feel the FDA should take necessary action.
A petition has even been started to pressure the FDA to ban the use of carrageenan as a food additive.
If you are concerned about how much carrageenan you eat, a healthy way to begin eliminating it is by looking at the amount of processed foods you eat. Alone, it offers no nutritional value and can be completely removed from your diet without an issue. If you'd like to keep an eye on it, a good place to start would be consulting a buyers' guide that helps you identify which products are carrageenan-free. As always, you can check the ingredients of each product to see if it's listed. Federal law requires it to be on the label.
In the words of Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, "All told, I recommend avoiding regular consumption of foods containing carrageenan."
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Photo Courtesy of: Chiot's Run