New in the News- Seaweeding out the Truth

This is a beautiful aquatic plant is not the kind used to make carageenan. It is lovely and relaxing to look at in my aquarium

This is a beautiful aquatic plant is not the kind used to make carrageenan. It is lovely and relaxing to look at in my aquarium

Today I present another trending issue in food, nutrition, and agricultural science. This time, I’m looking into something that’s been in our food for years and all of a sudden is controversial: carrageenan.

What is that you ask? It is an extract from a particular type of seaweed. It is used in all kinds of food products because it makes things thick, cohesive, jiggly, and smooth. It is frequently found in yogurt, ice cream, and milk substitutes (soy, almond, etc.) It is probably also in your toothpaste. It is on the FDA GRAS list- it is a food additive that is generally regarded as safe, like baking soda and citric acid. Starting about six months ago, however, I noticed people are all bent out of shape about it. Take a look below, if you want

An extensive literature review by Tobacman published in 2001 notes that degraded carrageenan (which is not an approved food additive) has consistently been found to be carcinogenic and that digestive processes has been shown to degrade carrageenan in certain conditions, maybe. Also carrageenan might possibly accelerate the cancer-causing effects of other carcinogens.


Many sites warning  of this dangerous chemical in our food cite the article above. They also cite this one frequently. It shows six mice suffered increased inflammation and decreased insulin sensitivity when their water supply constantly had carrageenan added to it. (It is actually a little more complicated than that, I’m summarizing.)

Now, before you toss the contents of your pantry, read this.  As you can see, the people at FSM Corporation and the food processing trade organizations they work with  feel carrageenan is 100% safe. In their defense, WebMD agrees that carrageenan is likely safe. Yes, WebMD is telling you something will probably not give you cancer.

So, who is correct- alarmist researchers or corporations looking to keep their customers? I wish I had an answer. Based on the research I’ve been doing there is no clear consensus on the absolute safety of carrageenan as a food ingredient. If there is any health risk it seems to be dose-dependent; the more carrageenan you consume the higher your (possible) risk. If you feel that you have health issues that are made worse by eating foods that contain carrageenan, then by all means avoid it. WebMD does mention that it can be used as a laxative- some people could very well be more sensitive to that property. If avoiding carrageenan helps you reduce your intake of highly processed foods, then you will probably benefit from that. However, I could not find a reason for full avoidance of carrageenan by the general population. Yet. It seems that this is not just a trendy food additive to blame for health issues; there is some real research being done on the safety of this additive.  As always, if you found something I didn’t then pretty pretty please post a link in the comments. We might not have all the facts yet, but we cannot go about creating alternative ones. This is not a political blog.