Toxin Spotlight: Carrageenan


I was speaking with a client the other day about alternative options to drinking milk, as pasteurized/homogenized milk can be very mucus-forming and congesting to the lymph system.  I recommended making homemade almond milk but said that sometimes convenience is an issue, so the boxed nut milks are also an option.  I don't drink any kind of milk on a regular basis, but my favorite brand of almond milk is shown on the right and sometimes I use it for making smoothies.  She said that she was concerned about "carrageenan" in the nut milks and asked me had I ever heard about this additive?  I said no, and she sent me a follow up article later that day explaining what it is, and why avoiding it is important.

I define toxins as anything that disrupts or suppresses the healthy function of the cells in our bodies.  There are hundreds (if not thousands) of toxins in our food, air, and environment -- from MSG, to stress and negative emotions, to the "electrosmog" from cell phones and electronic equipment.  So I can't say that I have a working mental index of all the potential toxins out there, but I'm always excited when new information about certain toxins show up on my radar, so I can research them, become more knowledgeable, and share that knowledge with others who may benefit from the information.

What I learned was both enlightening and disturbing.

Carrageenan is initially extracted from red seaweed called Irish Moss, and used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other highly processed foods.  Even though carrageenan is derived from Irish Moss (an ingredient commonly used in many raw food recipes),  it is not the same as consuming pure Irish Moss.  Carageenan is heated and concentrated Irish Moss that is then highly processed into chemical form.  Carageenan has lost the nutritional value of Irish Moss and makes it a health hazard.  But beware, due to the bad PR, some manufacturers are now dropping the word "carrageenan" and replacing it with "irish moss".

Degraded carrageenan, processed with acid solutions, is considered unsafe enough to prohibit its use in processed foods for humans and animals. It's so predictably inflammatory that it's used to create inflammatory conditions in lab animals for pharmaceutical research.  Undegraded carrageenan, created from red seaweed with an alkaline process, is considered food grade.  The FDA regards food grade carrageenan as safe for human consumption and therefore food grade carrageenan has found a home with food processors, even those with the USDA organic label, for baby formulas, ice creams, some beers, and all sorts of low or no fat dairy products.  

Other gums used as stabilizers and thickening 
agents do not share the unique chemical structure of carrageenan, and therefore do not raise the same health concerns. In 1988, Food and Drug Administration researchers compared damage to the colon in rats given carrageenan and given guar gum as an alternative. The researchers found damage to the rats given carrageenan but no damage to the rats given guar gum in the diet.

Unfortunately, even food grade carrageenan has been shown to

1) contain traces of degregaded carrageenan (5-25%)
2) have an inflammatory effect on the GI tract
3) be a tumor growth promoter
4) creates holes in the GI tract, with a potential to clog lymph glands
5) be linked with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

Individuals who suffered for years from gastrointestinal symptoms—abdominal bloating, “spastic colon,” irritable bowel syndrome, and diagnosed disease such as ulcerative colitis—often find relief when they eliminate carrageenan from their diet....But the absence of noticeable gastrointestinal symptoms does not signify that an individual is unaffected by carrageenan. Research shows carrageenan predictably causes inflammation.  Low-grade inflammation of the intestines may go unnoticed...and it often leads to more serious disease down the road.


According to Natural, there have been thousands of testimonies from gastrointestinal disease sufferers whose serious maladies were eliminated upon avoiding foods containing carrageenan and even Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. has gone on record with suggesting "avoiding regular consumption of foods containing carrageenan, saying that this is especially important advice for persons with inflammatory bowel disease.

Carrageenan Allergy – Case History
“Our son had an as-of-yet undiagnosed metabolic disorder as an infant and was not growing. The doctors surgically installed a g-tube in his belly and force-fed him formula containing high amounts of Carrageenan (not that they cared; it was the scientifically engineered nutrient content they wanted).
The more they insisted we pump through him, the sicker he became, the more mucous his body produced, and he nearly died. Rapid improvement occurred when we stopped feeding him the formula under a new doctor’s care, who wanted him breastfed and self-selecting his diet (all whole foods) while his gut healed. It was then we started looking into food additives, most of which trigger our son’s gastro-reflex issues. After complete avoidance of food containing carrageenan, he quickly recovered”.
Dr. Gloria Gilbère (aka Dr. G), D.A.Hom., Ph.D.,  D.S.C., EcoErgonomist, Wholistic Rejuvenist Source.


The Cornucopia Institute has started a working list (click here to view this list of foods containing carrageenan that you may be currently consuming) of Organic/Natural processed foods that contain carrageenan and I was surprised to find many things on the list that I considered "healthy" or good alternatives to other toxic food products (see pictures below).  At the end of article, there is also a list of conventional products containing this food additive, but that list is by no means comprehensive.  The Cornucopia Institute has recently submitted a lengthy petition to the FDA to reconsider carrageenan safety,  and in the meantime, they recommend reading labels carefully to avoid carrageenan, even with foods you may crave.  As I mentioned above, due to the bad PR, some manufacturers are now dropping the word "carrageenan" and replacing it with "irish moss".

Click here to read the Cornucopia Institute's full report on carrageenan (published March 2013),

Since discovering this information, I've become much more appreciative of the healthful simplicity of eating whole foods and I've become much more aware that there's no such thing as a "free lunch" when it comes to ingesting processed foods.  Yes, some items are still better than others, but the act of processing and altering a food from it's natural state often requires the additions of things that simply don't work so well with our body.  I hope the information above helps you in the never-ending journey of becoming a more aware and conscious consumer.


Examples of foods that contain carrageenan (click here for an expanded list): 

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LaShanda Greene is a Holistic Health Practitioner Certified in Detoxification and has spent the past 3 years educating people and guiding them on their detoxification and healing journeys.  She routinely offer easy to understand wisdom about how the body works, how the body heals, and the process of detoxification.  She is based in Oakland, California, but consults with clients located in all parts of the world.