If you're a label reader, and let me tell you I sure am, you might have noticed carrageenan listed as one of the ingredients. When I first saw it listed on a Ben and Jerry's pint (yes, ice cream is OK when eaten in moderation), it brought up a couple of questions for me – What exactly is carrageenan and is it something I should avoid?
Carrageenan is actually extracted from red seaweed, and the name comes from a type of seaweed found growing on the coast of Ireland. It's used as a food additive and sometimes is referred to as kelp extract. It helps to stabilize, thicken, or emulsify dairy products, reprocessed meats (like sausages or beef jerky), dog food, toothpaste, pudding, salad dressings, and even shoe polish.
Carrageenan is a safe ingredient and should not be confused with poligeenan. This is a chemically degraded derivative of carrageenan, which is used for industrial (non-food) purposes. It was improperly named "degraded carrageenan" for a while which gave the true carrageenan a bad name. Research indicates that poligeenan creates unfavorable health effects, but food-grade carrageenan has no known toxicity or carcinogenicity, and is recognized as safe by the FDA.
So go ahead and enjoy foods made with carrageenan, especially Ben & Jerry's (in moderation of course).