For anyone who has a digestive issue like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), spastic colon, inflammatory bowel disease, bloating, colitis, or chronic diarrhea, there’s more and more research that cites how carrageenan can cause gas and bloat and why it should be avoided in the low-FODMAP diet.
Let’s first talk about what carrageenan is.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a product derived from certain types of red algae, which is a seaweed found on the coasts of North America and Europe. Several food manufacturers use this indigestible polysaccharide to keep ingredients in beverages from separating or it’s used for gelling, thickening, and its stabilizing properties.
Carrageenan can be found in yogurt, chocolate, nutritional shakes, almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, soymilk, ice cream, and other products. Seaweed seems harmless, right? Not to people who are following a low-FODMAP diet because of a history of gas and bloating or other digestive issues.
All in all, carrageenan has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation (gas, bloating) as well as higher rates of colon cancer in laboratory animals. Several animal studies suggest carrageenan as “potentially carcinogenic and that is also may promote the formation of inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease”, according to Chris Kresser L. Ac.
Charlotte Vallaeys, director of Farm and Food Policy at the Cornucopia Institute says: “What’s striking to me is that carrageenan has no nutritional value”. On the website for the Cornucopia Institute they mention how “many individuals experience significant improvements in their gastrointestinal health after cutting carrageenan out of their diet”.
According to Prevention Magazine, although “derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response similar to that your body has when invaded by pathogens like Salmonella”.
In a research article Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments by Joanne Tobacman, MD, she said the data she reviewed had demonstrated that “exposure to undegraded as well as to degraded(poligeenan) carrageenan was associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms,” and “Because of the acknowledged carcinogenic properties of degraded carrageenan in animal models and the cancer-promoting effects of undegraded carrageenan in experimental models, the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered.”
What to Do with Carrageenan on a Low-FODMAP Diet
Some of the articles I’ve researched stated that when certain studies tried to prove why/how carrageenan is potentially harmful, the amounts of carrageenan being used were at much higher doses than what a human would ingest or be exposed to from say, a cup of almond milk.
In consequence, people following a low-FODMAP diet must be aware of the carrageenan inside the food and products they buy.
However, we need to keep a few recommendations in perspective:
- The cleaner the foods (no additives, nothing packaged or processed) that we eat (digestive problems or not), the better
- If anything is questionable, why even take the risk?
- We don’t really buy products that have carrageenan in them because carrageenan does not do anything to improve our health
- Making our own products at home can be much safer and healthier!
Shopping Guide to Avoiding Organic Foods with Carrageenan
Here is an excellent list provided by the Cornucopia Institute which provides both products that have carrageenan and those that do not. Pay attention to the rest of the ingredients as well, as oftentimes you’ll find inulin, xanthan gum and other gums that can also cause distress in people with digestive issues and are not recommended in a low-FODMAP diet.