Could Soy And Almond Milk Be Wrecking Your Gut?

Carrageenan, an unnecessary additive, could be causing digestive distress.

April 27, 2017
soymilk
PHOTOGRAPH BY BOONSOM/GETTY

Carrageenan, a food additive used in conventional, natural, and even some organic food and drink products such as soy and almond milk could be causing digestive problems and even contributing to cancer, according to several studies.

The seaweed-derived ingredient used to create a better texture, or "mouthfeel." Often found in things like chocolate milk, sour cream, creamers, yogurt, ice cream, and juices, carrageenan helps keep different ingredients in suspension so they don't separate, eliminating the need to shake the product before you consume it.

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But the cons seem to outweight the pros.

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Reasons To Avoid Carrageenan

Carrageenan has been used by the food industry for nearly 50 years. Although researchers have proven in mice and lab studies that dietary doses of carrageenan can lead to harmful inflammation, the additive is still approved for use in foods. Carrageenan so reliably causes inflammation that scientists actually use it to induce inflammation in biological experiments, explains Joanne Tobacman, MD, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, who has been studying the effects of carrageenan in human cells and lab animals for nearly 20 years.

Related: How To Make Your Own Almond Milk

In a statement to the National Organic Standards Board, Dr. Tobacman explained that carrageenan itself and its breakdown product both create dangerous inflammation, a condition that serves as the backbone of more than 100 human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and arteriosclerosis. 

Carrageenan is also banned from infant formula in Europe on recommendation of both the World Health Organization and the United Nations; and harvesting the seaweed for carrageenan has been shown to damage coral reefs.

Related: The 5 Most Alarming Ingredients Found In Baby Formula

Finding Carrageenan-Free Packaged Foods

Currently, carrageenan is most abundant in conventional products, but it can be found in several organic ones too. The good news: that may be changing. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted in November 2016 to remove carrageenan from the National List for use in organics, but it's still unclear if and when all organic products are free of this contraversial ingredient. The decision is an interim recommendation which must be reviewed by the USDA before becoming official, and that review isn't slated until November 2018.

 

Related: 7 Scary Food Additives To Avoid

In the meantime, read your labels and try to seek out products that are free of carrageenan. The Cornucopia Institute has a Shopping Guide to Avoiding Organic Foods with Carrageenan, which is helpful. Or, you can choose from some of these carrageenan-free organic picks below.

Organic Foods Free Of Carrageenan

Chocolate Milk: Horizon, Organic Valley

Cottage Cheese: Good Culture, Nancy's, Organic Valley

Cream: Horizon, Organic Valley (pasteurized only...ultrapasteurized may contain carrageenan), Butterworks Farm, and Straus Family Creamery

Ice Cream: Stonyfield, Green And Black's Organic, Publix, Julie's, Alden's

Yogurt: Maple Hill Creamery, Stonyfield, Trimona, Horizon, Wallaby, Smari, Redwood Hill Farms, Nancy's, Green Mountain Creamery, 365 Everyday

Soy Milk: EdenSoy, Westsoy, Pacific Foods, 365 Whole Foods, Trader Joe's (unsweetened in aseptic package), Soy Dream (classic original and classic vanilla)

Almond Milk: 365 Whole Foods, Wegman's, Trader Joe's (refrigerated), Silk

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