Carrageenan: Worry-worthy?

My online vegan support forum recently blew up with talk about “carrageenan.”  What is it, and should we be concerned about eating foods that contain it?

Carrageenan is a food additive derived from red seaweed that is used as a thickening agent.  It’s in a lot of different foods–everything from Silk brand soy and coconut milks (but not almond milk) to Fig Newtons.  There’s a huge list of foods (and other household products like toothpaste) that contain carrageenan here.

Big picture, though–should we avoid it?  The two sides to the argument can be found in “Demeaning Carrageenan” and the VegSource response, “Rebuttal to Cohen’s Latest Nonsense.”  The reason I care is because I currently have Silk brand soy and coconut milks in my fridge and feed them to my children.

A search for articles in Google Scholar yielded a mixed bag of results.  One study stated that due to carrageenan’s highly inflammatory nature, it causes tumor growth to explode in animal experiments.  However, I also read this, from “A Critical Review of the Toxicological Effects of Carrageenan…“:

“In-long term bioassays, carrageenan has not been found to be carcinogenic, and there is no credible evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect or a tumor-promoting effect on the colon in rodents. Also, like many dietary fibers, there is significant cecal enlargement in rodents when it is administered at high doses, but this does not appear to be associated with any toxicological consequences to the rodent. Many toxicological studies on carrageenan have involved administration at doses in excess of today’s standards for dietary feeding levels in bioassays, and they are orders of magnitude in excess of those to which humans are exposed.”
Bottom line…I will continue doing what I’ve been doing, which is offering my children almond, soy, coconut and hemp milks.  They don’t receive any non-dairy milk exclusively and I consider all plant-based milks better than cow’s milk, for the reasons I detail in this post and this one.

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