|photo from Grams: We're a Swingin' Group|
Carrageenan is substance extracted from red seaweed (sounds harmless enough) but despite its natural origins, it is highly processed and believed to cause gastrointestinal inflammation. Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are advised to avoid this ingredient as it can make symptoms worse. However, even if you don't have gastrointestinal disorder, this ingredient can still cause cause intestinal inflammation and studies have shown chronic inflammation to be a root cause of many serious diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has formally classified it as a potential human carcinogen.
Despite this classification, carrageenan is a commonly used additive as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier in both conventional and organic products. It is used in dairy products (ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, whipped cream), non- dairy alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk) and even toothpaste to keep the mixed ingredients from separating, improve texture or in low-fat / non-fat foods and deli meats as a fat substitute.
For more information on the health impact of carrageenan, take a look at the research done by Cornucopia and make your own informed decision. There seems to be a lot of debate surrounding carrageenan that for now, I am adding this to my list of ingredients to avoid. Luckily, there are manufacturers that have voluntarily eliminated this ingredient and are using safer alternatives. Click on this shopping guide for a comprehensive list of brands and products made without carrageenan.