Carrageenan is used as a stabilizer or as a thickening agent to yield a smooth texture, especially in beverages that separate, such as non-dairy milks. Many store-bought, plant-based milks are very creamy and thick, despite their relatively low-fat content because of carrageenan. This food additive may seem harmless, considering it is derived from red seaweed. However, in recent decades, numerous studies have linked the type of carrageenan used in food products with gastrointestinal disease in laboratory animals due to low levels of chronic internal inflammation from added carrageenan! Food-induced inflammation can greatly affect those with gut issues, such as IBS and Ulcerative Colitis. Although studies on lab animals have implied that carrageenan can cause GI disturbances, the FDA has not removed carrageenan from the "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) food list because there are no human studies, to date, that examine the effects of carrageenan inside the human digestive system.
Carrageenan can be found in many types of products, including some organic brands...
On a personal level, I have found carrageenan to be a past and present IBS trigger for me. When I was in the heat of my IBS battle, I used to consume store-bought almond milk that contained carrageenan on a daily basis. Even though my IBS is now significantly better, I have found that if I consume a product with carrageenan, my stomach is not happy with me the next day.
Guar gum, locust bean gum, xanthan gum, and gellan gum are some of the most common gums that are added to plant-based milks. Like carrageenan, these gums are often added to commercial non-dairy milks (and other food products) to thicken and stabilize ingredients for an enhanced mouthfeel and taste. Unfortunately, this increased convenience and flavor appeal can come at a high cost.
If any beverages or food products in your daily diet contain added gums and you are experiencing undesirable IBS symptoms, you can do an experiment and remove these additives out of your diet for a month to see if it leads to a happier gut. Also, reduced GI distress will help promote a healthier intestinal microbiome and enhanced health in the long-run.
This poorly absorbed form of calcium is known to slow down motility in the digestive tract, making a person with IBS more susceptible to experiencing constipation. I will discuss calcium in greater detail in a future blog post!
A Better Alternative Than Store-Bought
The best nut milks contain just nuts, water, sea salt, and some spices (optional). This option is much less expensive than store-bought alternatives, is easy to make, plus it's environment-friendly. Also, you're not limited to store-bought varieties, so you can experiment with non-traditional options, such as sunflower seed, hazelnut, walnut, and sesame seed milk! Check out this 83-second DIY video: