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Worried About Carrageenan in Food?

Ever since our youngest was born with a host of allergies, I've paid an unnatural amount of attention to labels and ingredients. Coconut milk has been a core part of my daughters diet since she was an infant because of her dairy allergies. She'd go through a gallon a week on her own. So when I started to hear the information floating around about carrageenan as a carcinogen in food I worried, because carrageenan is one of the ingredients in the brand of coconut milk that we buy (and in most brands of coconut, almond and soy milk etc.)

What is carrageenan anyway? Carrageenan is a seaweed extract that is commonly used in foods to: thicken, emulsify, provide texture and stabilize. You can find more information on this post from TLC Cooking which I found helpful.

dairy allergies and coconut milk carrageenan

image: Nicola Vernizzi/

We love the original flavor of So Delicious Coconut Milk at our house, it's the only brand of coconut milk my daughter will drink, and it's got carrageenan in it. So lucky for me, when I was at BlogHer this year, I came across the So Delicious booth in the expo hall. So I went straight to them to hear the low down on carrageenan (and to casually eat up their ice cream samples in the process). Here's what they said:

There has been a great deal of confusion about carrageenan, a natural polysaccharide (carbohydrate) extracted from red seaweed. The confusion arises because there are two types of carrageenan: undegraded (food-grade) and degraded (hydrolyzed with acid). Undegraded carrageenan has been used on a huge scale in food production worldwide since the 1930s, and its safety has been assured by the FDA Gras status. The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) gave carrageenan the highest ADI (Accepted Daily Intake) status.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which has included undegraded carrageenan on its approved list of ingredients since the mid 1990s, completed another extensive review of undegraded carrageenan in early 2012 (results were released in late May), and they concluded that undegraded carrageenan is safe to continue using in organic products. Although these major governing food organizations have supported ingredients like carrageenan for decades, we are always striving to deliver excellence with our products. That means, we take our product integrity and ingredient selection very seriously, and conduct our own internal reviews to determine how our products are made.

When new consumer concerns about this ingredient surfaced, we began taking proactive steps on our own to assess its use in our products. We believe that the scientific literature overwhelmingly concludes that undegraded carrageenan is safe to eat. However, we continue to evaluate and assess its use in some of our products. We are committed to using the highest quality ingredients and offering products that are delicious and respectful of our consumers and the planet. Just so you know, we have several new products that have been introduced in the past six months that do not contain carrageenan - including our new coconut milk Greek-style yogurts and our almond milk frozen pints and novelties.

- The folks at So Delicious

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that every product on the market is made with undegraded carrageenan. But knowing the difference is important if this issue matters to you and if you are a label reader like myself. If it's not clear on the label, (which it won't be most of the time), I suggest contacting the brands you buy regularly directly. You have a right to know exactly what your food is made of, and a right to the peace of mind in knowing that the food you feed your family is healthy and safe.

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You can submit inquiries to most food brands right off of their websites, I'd also suggest looking at the "Contact" link on their site and reaching out to the Press/Media contacts as well. I find they answer quickly.

There is so much information floating around out there on what's good and bad for us. If you have other insights on the carrageenan issue please share!

More on TodaysMama:

Dairy Allergy Alternatives for Kids

4 Easy Tips to Avoid Risky Food Additives in Foods

6 Steps to Reduce Exposure to Synthetic Hormones in Foods


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Worried About Carrageenan in Food?

Worried About Carrageenan in Food?

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