Monday, February 20, 2012

Beware of Carrageenan

A number of years ago when I first decided to become vegetarian, I started buying soy milk and when I consumed it I would get a terrible stomach and intestinal pain that made me wonder if I were allergic to soy in some way.

I realized that the pain was the same sharp and intense pain that I experienced when I drank Slim Fast in a can years prior (the prepared type) so I did some research and discovered they had an unfamiliar ingredient in common – carrageenan.

Carrageenan is a gel produced from red seaweed and it's used as a thickener and emulsifier. There are two types - undegraded and degraded. Undegraded is allowed in food products.

Upon further research I discovered that consumption of carrageenan may have a role in intestinal inflammation and possibly inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers and maybe even stomach cancer. Some people may have an allergy or sensitivity to carrageenan and they may mistakenly believe they actually have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy or soy products since the ingredients is so prevalent in those types of products. If you’ve had this stomach/intestinal pain in the past and think you can’t eat dairy and/or soy, you may want to seek out products without carrageenan to see if that is your problem. Agar is similar so you may wish to avoid it as well.

The stuff is in a ton of products. I started using a new toothpaste and I couldn’t figure out why I was getting sore and red gums after using that particular kind but not with the natural toothpastes I had.. then I realized.. it had carrageenan in it. I had never even thought to look in my toothpaste for it and i was shocked that it caused me issues without even ingesting it. Close-Up Toothpaste is free from carrageenan if you want a less expensive alternative to natural toothpaste.

It may not affect everyone but if you’ve ever had any sort of stomach or intestinal pain, you may want to start avoiding it to see if it could be why you have issues.

It's rather difficult to avoid if you eat processed foods and dairy products. I no longer eat dairy, but when I did .. I know that Daisy sour cream is free of it and I did find one regional cottage cheese that didn’t have it in there but it’s difficult to find products without it. For me, I’ve found I can use small amounts (say a splash of soy milk on cereal or if it's in a non-liquid product) but if I drink a soy milk with it in there, say in a smoothie, I get really sick.

There are a few nut based milks that do not have it, but most do. It can also be found in infant formula so if your baby is having issues, please check for it.

The symptoms of a carrageenan allergy or sensitivity:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea

Carrageenan is a seaweed derivative that is used in MANY foods and products… here are just a few things you’ll find it in:

  • Dairy products: chocolate milk, eggnog, condensed milk, evaporated (canned) milk, milk powder, cheeses (such as cottage cheese, cream cheese), yogurts, spreads, whipping cream substitutes, puddings, whey
  • Dried nuts and seeds, nut spreads
  • Fat spreads and fat-based desserts
  • Custard (frozen)
  • Sherbets, sorbets, ice creams
  • Dessert gels, fruit jellies
  • Processed fruits, jams, pie filling
  • Dried mushrooms, seaweeds
  • Soybean products, such as soy milk
  • Nut milks, such as almond milk
  • Canned vegetables, legumes, fruits, meats and fish
  • Pimento olive stuffing
  • Processed meats, edible sausage casings
  • Confectionery: chocolate
  • Ready-to-eat cereals
  • Pre-cooked pasta, soups
  • Rice pudding, rice cake, tapioca pudding
  • Pizza
  • Savouries
  • Batters
  • Processed egg products
  • Vinegar, mustards, sauces (like barbecue), salad dressings, relishes and other condiments
  • Dietetic foods for weight loss
  • Infant formulas
  • Dietary supplements
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: energy and sport drinks, syrups
  • Alcoholic drinks: apple cider, perry (from fermented pears), mead, beer, distilled beverages, aromatized alcoholic drinks
  • Pills and syrups (like cough syrup)
  • Toothpastes
  • Laxatives
  • Air freshener gels
  • Cosmetic products
  • Dog foods and other pet foods
  • Lubricants
  • Paints (water-based)
  • Pesticides
  • Shoe polish

Carrageenan is also used to de-ice airplanes and in the Alien movies as saliva.

Here are a couple articles to read as well and the internet has lots more…


  1. I drank soymilk (which contains carrageenan) for the past 10 years because I didn't think it was very healthy to be drinking cow's milk. I had constant heartburn/GERD and had 2 EGDs which revealed an ulcer and stomach inflammation. I gave up soymilk around 2 months ago and my stomach issues have tremendously settled down!

    1. Me, it's pretty amazing, huh? Did you try others that do not have the carrageenan in it?

  2. Thank you so much for your post. It has finally dawned on me that carageenan may be the problem. I am eliminating it from my diet and will see if my recent intestinal pain improves. There are a lot of non dairy milks now available without it, btw.

  3. Tookl, I am so glad the post helped! I have only found a very few retail milks without it but I much prefer homemade almond milk! You should try making it! It's easy and fast and so much more delicious! Let me know if you feel better!

  4. My daughter I think has a skin reaction to carageenan. All last November to December she had these red dry flaky rings around her eyes (making her look like a raccoon) Also her lips were dried and cracked. When I realized that is the exact time frame when the egg nog comes out and she loves it so much. Matter of fact she went nuts and drank so much on Christmas Eve and Christmas day she broke out in hives on her chest Christmas day. We had her allergies tested right after that and they came back negative for both eggs and milk. So I looked at the other ingredients and narrowed it down to annato (yellow food dye additive) and carageenan. she also gets patches of eczema where she bends (inner elbows) and behind her knees. It cleared up in January but came back in February with all the red dyed candy (which is usually made with annato too). I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is. A friend brought over some sugar free ice cream which she ate in the the summer and suddenly had red eye patches again. I looked and there was carageenan in it. We bought an ice cream machine and started making our own ice cream. Eggnog season is upon us again... we are thinking of giving her one glass and see if she reacts, if so, then we will start making our own. Glad to read here it can be an irritant allergen to others. Thanks for posting.

  5. Wow, Jenn.. I hope you have this figured out! I hadn't heard of those types of reactions but anything is possible. Good luck!

  6. @Jenn - I'm triggered by both carrageenan & annatto, although the carrageenan is much, MUCH worse. So watch out after eating yellow cheeses, chorizo, Adobo sauce (I buy dried chipotle from Hispanic markets), processed egg products, sometimes commercial-sauces, to see if she might also be triggered by the completely natural annatto too.

    @Shelly - You figured out your sensitivity to carrageenan much faster than I did! I pinned your carrageenan post to the carrageenan board I just started: - I'll remove your post if you don't want your post on Pinterest (email below).

    ~ shreela at gmail dot com

  7. Thanks. Yes. We ended up making our own eggnog this year and she has had no reactions this winter, thank goodness. I've been watching when she eats any thing that gives her eyes that red ring and also her lips. Hubby brought home a new kid toothpaste (it's pink) and immediately her lips started cracking. Thanks for posting. I like coming back here to read your blog. :) Have a great day.

  8. If you do not want carrageenan permanently in our food and consumer products be they conventional or certified organic, now is the time to comment into the record at the USDA. The deadline is 11:30 a.m. June 3, 2013.

    Information at Andrew Weil, M.D. shows that carrageenan is not safe and may even cause cancerous tumors. Dr. Tobacman has published 18 peer-reviewed studies that address the biological effects of carrageenan and is convinced that it is harmful to human health. In April 2012, she addressed the National Organic Standards Board on this issue and urged reconsideration of the use of carrageenan in organic foods.

    By placing comments into the record at the USDA, you can help sunset this process and set a date on closure of not only carrageenan in foods, but other natural and synthetic ingredients where harm is accumulating.

    For example, ALL food grown in the USA has both pesticide active and misnamed inert ingredients. This includes ORGANIC agriculture compliments of the Bush-Cheney Administration in 2007, and the Obama Administration since. And now, the USDA Secretary has jumped over the NO vote of the National Organic Standard Board to put List 3 inerts which are to be used in pheromone dispensers in organic agriculture permissible foods and other products.

    Inert ingredients in pesticides come from legally recycled hazardous wastes which are reclaimed and used to grow food and fiber. It is the key reason there is so much polluted food and waters (even rainwater) in North America.

    Read: Secret Inert Ingredients
    No more secrets, your right to know.

    To submit your comment into the record register as "Citizen" and let the USDA know what you think, what you experience with carrageenan in food and other products, and how you feel about synthetic ingredients in organic agriculture like legal hazardous wastes recycled into pesticide inerts which are used to grow food and fiber. Organic farmers do not need to use synthetic and toxic chemicals to grow food. This is a favor to big corporations, our health be damned.

    The deadline is 11:30 a.m. June 3, 2013. Go to:!submitComment;D=AMS-NOP-11-0003-0029

  9. I ate a so delicious coconut icecream unsweetened and its been 27 hs with sharp pain in the guts and the neck-shoulders. Thx for the post. I hope i dont get cancer since im on a leaky gut diet.

  10. It's tragic that I just discovered this amazingly well put together blog on carrageenan, because it's so useful. I have been recently diagnosed with lactose intolerance, and decided to dabble in milk alternatives. I was drinking the Silk line of products when I experienced bloating, severe stomach cramps, and diarrhea. The doctor made me bring to him all the empty cartons and packages of what I had been consuming that week. He looked over the table of contents of all products, and compared it to the extensive food diary I kept. He stated that he sees no reason any of the foods consumed could have triggered such reactions. He said it must be a stomach bug. After a month passed with the same reactions, I went to the doctor again. He then misdiagnosed me as having irritable bowel syndrome. Just recently I drank the Vanilla Chai from Bolthouse and broke out head to toe in a food allergy rash. I looked over the ingredients and all but one I recognised. The ones I did were proven to be safe for me. The ingredient I didn't recognise was the carrageenan. After researching it extensively I came across a few web pages that state it is rich in Sulfa. Sulfa is a main cause for indigestion, gastrointestinal, and allergic reactions in humans. It is what i am extremely allergic to as well. The articles I viewed stated that most people are unable to digest the carrageenan wholly and it is typically passed on in stool; including the Sulfa it contains. However, there is still a good fraction of the populace whose digestive systems can break carrageenan down and all of its properties are then distributed throughout the entire body. When I looked over the ingredient list for the Silk Soy Milk I found the carrageenan there too, but I didn't break out as I did with the Vanilla Chai. I contacted Bolthouse and after finally getting a hold of someone they said that the Vanilla Chai does heavily utilize carrageenan since it gives the beverage a thick, creamy consistency. Which is why I'm having a more severe reaction to it than before. Because of your amazing article I now understand my condition more clearly and am comforted that I do not have IBS, just an allergy to carrageenan. I did look into the milk I used to drink in hopes that it contained carrageenan, but sadly it doesn't. I'm still lactose intolerant. In any case, I wonder why my doctor didn't catch this? Is this information not delivered to medical professionals? Also, I feel that companies should give an allergy warning clearly labeled on the product for carrageenan as they do soy and nuts (neither I'm allergic to). Thank you so much for helping me. I also hope that in turn my experience proves useful for you.

    1. I'm so glad you figured it out, Mel! It's shocking what doctors aren't trained in.. they are trained to dispense medicine. I'm shocked hat they only get a few hours of nutrition instruction when it's the cornerstone of good health.

  11. It makes me really sick too.....and as I'm told, it frequently contains Glutamic acid (aka MSG) as well......which is even worse. I suspect that A LOT more people are reactive to this crap, but have tolerated feeling shitty for so long that it just seems normal.....the fish never notices the water....

  12. I just came back from hospital after week of intense stomach and abdominal pain. Now I realize it's because recently I started drinking a lot more "Almond Breeze" (contains carrageenan). I was crippled from the pain to the point that I missed days of work. Hospital didn't find anything with initial tests, but was going to send me for further testing for inflammation and ulcers.

    I can't believe carrageenan is allowed in food products, it was extremely destructive to my life!

  13. I have been looking for whipping cream that does not contain carageenan to no I need to ask the grocery store to specially bring some in or does it not exist?

    1. I'm vegan so I have no idea but they d make some vegan versions of whipped topping altho I'm not sure of the ingredients.

    2. I sympathize. I just contacted Stonyfield Farm and they are in the process of taking carrageenan out of their whipping cream--it should be in the stores soon. The woman said the change will be reflected in the ingredient list on the carton.

  14. I had such a severe reaction to carrageenan in the almond milk I was drinking daily. I eventually got red bumps and hives all over my body and anaphylactic shock symptoms like my throat swelling up. It was also triggering horrible migraines. I was able to figure it out on my own that carrageen was the cause of all my troubles and eliminated it from my diet. However, after reading this article, I'm seeing that I need to check even more types of items for it's presence.

    1. Isn't it crazy that it can be in so many things? the Toothpaste is the one that shocked me.

  15. I just recently discovered that carrageenan is the root of my dental and gum troubles. I was having issues with peeling skin in my mouth and swollen/receding gums that were otherwise perfectly healthy (went to three dentists out of desperation). It took some trial-and-error and ingredient elimination, but I can now say that's what caused the issues. It took a lot of Google searches and note-taking, but it was absolutely worth discovering. I guess we just need to be very mindful of every single thing that is not just going into our bodies, but touching it in any way. Thank you for providing a thorough and will written article on this hidden, potentially diabolical ingredient.

    1. I'm so glad you discovered what it was and it was a relatively easy fix! I recently asked my dentist if their cleaning paste had carrageenan in it and she had no idea about this ingredient so it's important to tell everyone! I know that it doesn't affect everyone but man, it's hard when it does.

  16. Thank you for speaking up in this. My 10 year old son has literally had this issue his whole life. He would throw up with no warning and in the most public places (twice at a restaurant, once at a family dinner where my sisters boyfriend was meeting the family for the first time and once when he was in the wedding party of s wedding!) I was baffled at the cause but looking back I can see where he had carageenan. I didn't realize it until Christmas time of this year when it became more frequent. After 4 incidents in a month, I began to study labels more. I found carageenan as a common ingredient. We removed it and no incidents until I inadvertently gave him an allergy capsule with carageenan in it. The question I have is why it affected him immediately after eating as a baby and toddler and why it takes longer now that he's 10. If he eats carageenan it takes 4-12 hours for him to get sick. In the case of the capsule, he had one a day for two days and got sick early in the morning of the third day. I also font understand why it didn't seem to affect him every single time as a younger child but why now he can get very sick from trace amounts. Would like to know if there are sensitivity tests I can give him to confirm although I'm convinced.

    1. Sorry for the typos, typing on my phone.

    2. Hi, Jennifer.
      I have a similar reaction to grapes and purple dye as your son is having to carageenan. I can't explain it, but I, too, was having immediate reactions when I was an infant with later onset, more severe reactions as a child. I can only imagine that the body tries to fight the offending substance, which delays the vomiting, but when it can't, it goes into hyper-vigilant mode. It may also be a later part of the digestive tract that reacts and triggers the vomiting.
      I've never had allergy or sensitivity tests for my grape/purple allergy, but time has proven it to exist. Thesedays, I just avoid it. I even check labels at restaurants (makes for some uncomfortable conversations with managers). I had a classmate that had the same allergy to orange. It's strange. With all the odd things they put in consumables, it's no wonder why so many children have so many allergies - especially peanuts & red dye.
      I wish you the best of luck with your son. And I hope someone else can help with info about testing.

    3. Hi, Jennifer.
      I have a similar reaction to grapes and purple dye as your son is having to carageenan. I can't explain it, but I, too, was having immediate reactions when I was an infant with later onset, more severe reactions as a child. I can only imagine that the body tries to fight the offending substance, which delays the vomiting, but when it can't, it goes into hyper-vigilant mode. It may also be a later part of the digestive tract that reacts and triggers the vomiting.
      I've never had allergy or sensitivity tests for my grape/purple allergy, but time has proven it to exist. Thesedays, I just avoid it. I even check labels at restaurants (makes for some uncomfortable conversations with managers). I had a classmate that had the same allergy to orange. It's strange. With all the odd things they put in consumables, it's no wonder why so many children have so many allergies - especially peanuts & red dye.
      I wish you the best of luck with your son. And I hope someone else can help with info about testing.

    4. Thanks MB! I think my kids get migraines from some dyes. Your explanation about my son makes sense. I would still like to know about testing, too.

  17. I drank almond milk for the first time and shortly after I had difficultly breathing as my lungs filled with fluids. As I get a lot of anaphylactic reactions from allergens, I know now that I have been sensitized that the next encounter could be fatal. Doing some research suggests that carageenan has no nutritional value and could be carcinogenic. Hard to believe that it is even allowed though I hear that some companies are removing it.

    1. Tom, that is scary! I'm curious what you mean about being sensitized. I mentioned in a comment above that my son's reactions seem to be more delayed now at age 10 but they happen every time. When he was a baby and younger child, he would vomit immediately after having carrageenan but not every time. Now he gets sick from the French Fries that have been cooked in the same oil as carrageenan containing chicken nuggets but not until the next morning. Maybe you have experience with why this could be true? He has no anaphylactic reactions, just digestive issues.

    2. Jennifer,

      I believe what Tom means by "sensitized" is this (please correct me if I'm wrong, Tom):

      Imagine being stung by a bee. At your first sting, you may not have any reaction at all. A while later (could even be years) you get stung again and develop itching and puffiness at the sting site. No big deal. Again, later on, you are stung, but this time it's really bad and anaphylaxis sets in. When this happens, it's usually because the antibodies in our system see the sting's venom and begin to recognize that this is a bad thing. They don't know they should react the first time, but the subsequent times, they may overreact. This is what sensitized is - the system becomes sensitive to an allergen.

      It's a strange phenomenon. There are times when the body won't even have that first or middle step of reaction and it will just go nuts and attack without warning. I use the bee sting analogy only because it's one I'm familiar with in my own home, but a peanut allergy or anything else, really, can occur happen the same way.

      Have you learned any more about possible testing? I'll be honest, I haven't bothered with it myself. At 34, I'm finding I have sensitivities to so many things I was always good with before. I just avoid those things when they crop up at this point, but I have a slew of health problems that cause reactions to or are inflamed by certain foods. If I got tested every time I found a new problem, I'd be covered in allergy test spots permanently!