The One Ingredient You Need To Watch Out For In Almond Milk

If you buy almond milk because you prefer not to drink cow's milk or you have a lactose allergy, you might be ingesting more than almonds, water, and nutrients. Some almond milk contains the food additive carrageenan, which research from the University of Iowa has linked to digestive distress and inflammation (via Research Review).

Derived from red seaweed, carrageenan appears in a variety of processed foods and beverages, including almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, soy pudding, and soy desserts, according to the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit consumer education and watchdog group focused on agriculture and food issues.

Food manufacturers have used carrageenan as a stabilizing and thickening agent since the 1970s (via Eat This, Not That!). In addition to almond milk and other alternative dairy products, consumers can find carrageenan in processed deli meats, soups, cottage cheese, whipped cream, ice cream, sour cream, microwavable dinners, frozen pizza, nutrition bars, chewable vitamins, and beverages such as chocolate milk, Ensure, and SlimFast. It also can appear in infant formula, according to Eat This, Not That!

Avoid carrageenan if you feel bloated, nauseated, or have diarrhea

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization have approved the use of carrageenan, although a few studies have shown that it can cause inflammation and gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals.

Carrageenan's chemical structure causes an immune response similar to that of bacteria like Salmonella. People sensitive to carrageenan report experiencing "belly bloat," diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and nausea, as well as more severe reactions such as irritable bowel syndrome and severe inflammatory bowel disease. Removing carrageenan from their diets improved their symptoms.

Chronic inflammation from any source is a root cause of many diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, heart disease, and cancer, according to Andrew Weil, M.D., director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (via his website).

In general, almond milk is a nutritious cow's milk alternative that's low in calories and sugar, as well as a good source of calcium and vitamins D and E (via Healthline). Carrageenan might not be listed under the ingredients if it's considered a "processing aid," says the Cornucopia Institute, which has a 2020 list of organic foods with and without carrageenan (via its website).

Other nutritional experts say these almond milk brands are carrageenan-free: Silk (including Original, Vanilla, Light, Light Vanilla, Unsweetened, and Unsweetened Vanilla); Califia Farms (including Original, Vanilla, Unsweetened, Chocolate, Coconut, and Barista Blend); and Blue Diamond Almond Breeze (including Original, Vanilla, Chocolate, Unsweetened, and Unsweetened Vanilla) (via HealthyEater).