Thursday, June 9, 2011

Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a seaweed extract. It's a common and cheap food additive used as a thickener and emulsifier in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed food products. It is also a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin.

I recently read, in a weekly newsletter I subscribe to from Dr. Weil, that based on results of animal studies, Carrageenan has been tagged by some as an unsafe product that may cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. I did a little more research and found other articles that say the same. "I think the evidence is compelling to avoid carrageenan in any product, and especially if you have irritable bowel disease." Andrew Weil, M.D.

I eat low fat dairy often. After reading more on Carrageenan, it kept coming up in low fat products. This prompted me to take a look at the items I had in my fridge. And, yes, there it was. In the cottage cheese and sour cream. Both of the low fat variety and both from Trader Joe's. I know that it is better to use the real and/or full fat versions of these kind of foods and do avoid fat free items, except Greek yogurt and avoid fat free and low fat cheese because of the junk added to them but as I mentioned, I do eat dairy often and like to offset some of it with low fat varieties. Luckily my favorite yogurts (low fat and 0%) do not contain Carrageenan.

I was able to find a few options for low fat cottage cheese and sour cream. Not surprisingly at Whole Foods. My husband picked up a low fat cottage cheese from Kalona Super Natural. This stuff was the cream of the crop. Organic, reduced fat (2%) and grass fed. The taste was fantastic. And I usually don't eat cottage cheese straight (I use it in recipes like lasagna) but I would consider it if it was Kalona. It happened to be on sale for $3.29 for a 16 oz. container. I believe the everyday price is $3.99. I also found that Daisy Brand low fat cottage cheese and light sour cream do not contain Carrageenan. I picked up a 24 oz. cottage cheese for $3.59. A little cheaper and a little larger. I haven't had a chance to try it yet though. I think I've heard some decent things about Daisy Brand products but maybe only from their ads and famous jingle. Not too sure.

Among the many articles I came across on Carrageenan, I wanted to share the one from the TLC Cooking website. Click here to check it out. It's a quick read and I like the info. It sends a message about processed foods that a lot of people don't think about. I especially like the mention of "food scientists" and the "normal cook." And the part about Carragennan being "completely natural" reminds us that just because something is from a natural source initially or even entirely, doesn't make it good for us.

One day my family and I will eat grass-fed dairy 100% of the time but until our budget evolves, I will at minimum avoid buying dairy containing Carrageenan. Now onto researching Locust Bean Gum! :)

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