Q. I see carrageenan on the ingredient list of my organic almond milk. What is this, why do they add it, and is it safe?
A. Allie Hosmer, a master’s candidate and dietetic intern at Tufts University, Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “Carrageenan, which is extracted from red seaweed, is an FDA-approved additive used as a thickening agent, stabilizer, and emulsifier. Almond milk companies add carrageenan to their products because it stabilizes the milk and prevents a gritty layer of ground almonds from settling to the bottom of the container. It also contributes to almond milk’s creamy texture.”
“Questions have been raised as to the safety of carrageenan. Some animal studies have observed an association between carrageenan intake and intestinal inflammation and colon cancer, but animal studies cannot be generalized to humans due to variations in metabolism between species. While no studies have been done in humans, some studies that exposed human intestinal cells to very high concentrations of carrageenan in the lab did find increased inflammatory markers. Still, on the basis of all available science and the current levels in the food supply, the FDA and other international regulatory authorities have repeatedly ruled that carrageenan is safe.”
“The National Organic Standards Board recently recommended removing carrageenan from the list of additives approved for use in organic foods, but this decision was not based on safety concerns. The USDA decided to allow carrageenan to remain in organic foods, because manufacturers argued that there is no good alternative. For example, some almond milk companies have removed carrageenan from their products, but multiple additives are needed to attain the same textural properties.”