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Should You Avoid Carrageenan?

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).

Join The Conversation
Your defense of carrageenan needs reexamination, to wit:  USDA/FDA/EPA/CDC derelict in duties to protect nation's health, to wit:  Dr. Tobacman has studied the additive, un-degraded, and claims it is converted metabolically to potent degraded form with negative consequences: diabetes(research above), inflammation, and malignancy.   Powerful industry with BAD Science support has hoodwinked you.   Maybe B&J could put some of their $$$ going to OWS into unbiased research.
Raymond2353538 Raymond2353538 5 years
Your advisory on the safety of carrageenan should be revisited.  Joanne Tobacman, MD of the University of Illinois, Chicago, has conducted numerous studies, including degraded and undegraded carrageenan.  Both have been shown to adversely affect epithelial cells in vitro.  Recently, she responded this to me:   "Mr. Anderson, Yes, I am the same person, and have re-located to the University of Illinois at Chicago.  I continue to study carrageenan, and we have several publications in the scientific literature concerning its harmful effects. I have contacted the FDA on more than one occasion, and am in communication with Sidney Wolfe from Public-Citizen. There are very strong food industry interests that support the use of carrageenan. I remain hopeful that as we continue to build the scientific case about the harmful effects of carrageenan, the public response will increase and the FDA will regulate its use.  In the meantime, I advise individuals to refrain from eating foods with carrageenan, in order to avoid the harmful effects that are related to inflammation, diabetes, and malignancy. Careful reading of labels is required, as well as consideration that carrageenan may be a secondary ingredient, as when condensed milk is used as an ingredient. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Sincerely, Joanne Tobacman, MD"   Search Tobacman site:org file:pdf and a wealth of information is available.  Her research is partially funded by the American Diabetes Association and the VA, not a competing product company. 
graduatedsqueaks graduatedsqueaks 9 years
As a food scientist, I've worked with carrageenan and lots of other thickeners. They're pretty impressive, and many can be used to replace fats in some foods, providing thickness and lubricity missing in low-fat products, so that you can still enjoy it like it's a full fat food.
jspeed jspeed 9 years
It's also the main ingredient in a sexual lubricant of the same name. Never used it...
wackdoodle wackdoodle 9 years
I thought everyone knew that carrageenan was derived from seaweed. So many of our current food thickeners and texture modifiers are derived from seaweed or algae. Incredible stuff.
firecracker41 firecracker41 9 years
Um, to which studies are you referring that say this is safe? Even the non-degraded type has been linked to cancer: Results of a study published in October 2001 suggest that carrageenan may not be as safe as once thought. Findings from animal studies and a review of the scientific literature showed that degraded forms of carrageenan can cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. But Dr. Tobacman thinks that undegraded carrageenan - the kind most widely used as a food additive - might also be associated with malignancies and other stomach problems. She suggests that such factors as bacterial action, stomach acid and food preparation may transform undegraded carrageenan into the more dangerous degraded type. Dr. Tobacman's findings were published in the October 2001 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Full article can be found here: Please list your sources so we can follow up on the accuracy of claims!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Thanks, Fit. Good info.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
Wow, never even heard of this before. Good catch, Fit!
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
I <3 Carragenean because it's a vegetarian alternative to gelatin!
DreaAST DreaAST 9 years
i've never heard of this before. good info!
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