FoodFacts.com has been receiving multiple emails requesting more information regarding the controversial ingredient, Carrageenan. We thought it would be a worthy blog post to provide some further information as to why this ingredient is something so many people in our community make a conscientious effort to avoid.

So what exactly is Carrageenan and why is it controversial? A few weeks ago, we featured Carrageenan on our Facebook page and reviewed products carrying the ingredient. One of our posters commented that Carrageenan “is just seaweed.” Actually it’s not just seaweed and we’d like to start with that clarification.

Carrageenans are a family of linear sulfated polysaccharides that are extracted from seaweed via a chemical solvent. Carrageenan has thickening and gelatin like qualities and is also a food stabilizer. In addition to its use as a food additive, it’s a key ingredient in the de-icing solutions used on airplanes, as well as cosmetics, pesticides, and room fresheners. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?

Carrageenan is linked to gastrointestinal disorders as well as certain cancers. It can also be a source of hidden MSG. It’s important for all of us to remember that there are certain food ingredients that contain free glutamic acids that aren’t Monosodium Glutamate, but act just like MSG when consumed.

Most concerning, however, has been the use of Carrageenan in infant formulas and baby and toddler food products. A 2007 joint FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)/WHO (World Health Organization) committee stated that “based on information available, it is inadvisable to use carrageenan or processed eucheuma seaweed in infant formulas.” While Carrageenan is “generally recognized as safe” in the US due to the very small amounts generally included in products, when it is included in formula, the infant tends to consume much more and is therefore at risk for negative health consequences, such as GI ulceration and intestinal inflammation. Carrageenan is banned for use in formula in the EU. Sadly, in the U.S., Carrageenan is a fairly common ingredient in infant formulas and toddler nutrition beverages.

If you haven’t already done so, you may want to update your FoodFacts.com membership profile to include Carrageenan on your avoid list for ingredients. If you don’t yet have a FoodFacts.com membership, you may want to sign up, so that you can begin tracking the ingredients you’d like to avoid in your diet. Membership is completely free and you’ll be able to see which products contain the controversial ingredients that most concern you.

FoodFacts.com has also made it much easier for parents of babies and toddlers to keep track of those products on our grocery shelves contain ingredients that we’d like to keep out of the diets of the youngest among us. Our new Baby & Toddler Nutrition Guide lists every baby and toddler product we have in our database with complete information on nutritional content, allergens and controversial ingredients, including Carrageenan. Click here to view our new Baby & Toddler Nutrition Guide … it really simplifies food choices for new parents!