Does Your Coconut or Almond Milk Contain a Known Carcinogen? Mine Does.

by Chrystal Johnson on May 31, 2012

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almond-breezeWith multiple milk sensitivities in our house, almond milk and coconut milk have become staples in our fridge.

I used to make almond milk from scratch, but recently starting buying the almond/coconut milk combo from Blue Diamond.

It’s convenient, tastes good and saves time. But is it harming my family’s health?

According to a new report – yes.

Before I get into it, if you’re drinking any sort of milk substitute, go grab it and look for this ingredient: Carrageenan.

Did you find it? I did!

carrageenenCarrageenan is a common ingredient in the majority of milk substitutes, baby formulas, cottage cheese and, sadly, even some flavored coconut waters. It’s used as a stabilizer and/or emulsifier.  And it doesn’t even matter if the product is USDA certified organic. Sigh.

I’ve seen Carrageenan over and over as an ingredient listed in packaged foods the last few years. I always thought it was a soy derivative so I’ve tried to avoid it, but not as aggressively as I should have.

Carrageenan is actually derived from red seaweed, so I totally had its source wrong. But my gut was right in telling me something just wasn’t okay with consuming it.

Recently, the Cornucopia Institute released a Video as well as a PDF Report outlining some upsetting practices between the USDA and NOSA (National Organic Standards Board (the agency regulating organic food)).

One of the most troubling issues involves an ingredient that has been deemed carcinogenic. Yep, you guess it, Carrageenan.

There are 2 “classes” of Carrageenan: food safe and approved (aka undergraded) and non-approved or non-food-safe (aka degraded). I’ll just call them food safe and non-food safe from here on out to make it clear which version I’m talking about (degraded and undegraded is just too confusing to keep straight).

There has been plenty of published, peer-reviews literature in the scientific community for decades showing that non-food-safe carrageenan is inflammatory and carcinogenic in lab animals.  In fact, non-food safe carrageenan was listed as a “possible human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1983.

In addition, non-food-grade carrageenan has been shown to cause inflammation in rodents’ colons resembling ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

While it is well established that non-food-safe carrageenan is harmful, there have also been concerns with food-grade carrageenan dating back to the late 1970s! In fact, there are studies (including industry-funded studies) showing food-grade carrageenan is also linked to colon inflammation and colon cancer in animals. How did I not know this?

Additionally, some studies are reporting that “food-grade” carrageenan can degrade in the gastrointestinal tract to the same molecular weight/structure and non-food-grade carrageenan.

On top of that, when the industry tested food-grade carrageenan for the presence of non-food-grade carrageenan, every sample had at least some non-food grade carrageenen in it. Some samples had as much as 25% non-food-grade carrageenan.

Like I said, it doesn’t matter whether the product is organic or not (Carrageenan was approved for use in organics in 1995 and reapproved in 2008).

It just seems like there is too much controversy around carrageenen, and too much risk that it could cause colon inflammation and colon cancer. I will be steering clear of carrageenan starting now.

It’s not going to be easy though. It’s in a lot of products. This blog post over at Food Babe did a good job at outlining the major brands that use Carrageenan:

  • Blue Diamond
  • Carnation
  • Horizon
  • Pacific
  • Silk (Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk does not have it)
  • So Delicious
  • Starbucks
  • Tempt
  • Zico

Are you using any of the brands on this list? I know we are using a few of them! On my next shopping trip, I’ll be reading labels closely to see if I can make some recommendations of safer brands.

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