Carrageenan - No Thank You!

Recently I was perusing the aisles of our newly renovated Kroger. Passing the pet food aisle, which I never enter, a refrigerated section caught my eye.  Hopeful I strolled into the aisle, opened the glass door, and pulled out a roll of Fresh Pet dog food.  I started reading the ingredients, placed the roll back, and moved on to another aisle. The ingredient that made me say no? Carrageenan.

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What Is Carrageenan?

It’s a natural ingredient derived from red seaweed.  There are two types: food grade which is processed with alkali into a so called “natural” ingredient and degraded which is processed with an acid.  The main concern is that the acid in the stomach may “degrade” food grade carrageenan once it enters the digestive system.  

Where And Why Is It Used?

Carrageenan is often found in organic and natural human grade products. It’s also in quite a lot of wet commercial pet foods. It’s used because it thickens and emulsifies foods like yogurt, chocolate, nut milks, and even ice cream to give the foods a thicker consistency and to make low-fat versions taste fuller.  Basically foods that have had fat removed can add carrageenan as a replacement.  It's often added to beverages to keep their ingredients from separating so you'll find it in many nutritional shakes, milk products, and milk replacements. It’s even used in certain frozen dinners, soups, and commercial broths.

Why Avoid It?

First and foremost carrageenan isn’t digestible and it has no nutritional value. In fact it is considered quite destructive causing inflammation which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding.  Researchers have linked it to gastrointestinal disease in lab animals including ulcerative colitis, intestinal lesions, and colon cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed degraded carrageenan as a possible carcinogen and there’s a petition urging the FDA to ban the ingredient from the food supply. 

Bottom Line

Always read the label to avoid unnecessary or dangerous ingredients..  Seaweed has many healthy benefits so stick to Nori or Kombu.