I have a carrageenan sensitivity so I've learned all the ways to avoid carrageenan in my diet and remain symptom-free.
Carrageenan allergy and intolerance symptoms can be a real problem for those sensitive to this common food ingredient. In this article, I’ll explain how to recognize symptoms of this allergy, how to know which foods and beverages contain carrageenan and how to keep them out of your diet.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a thickener made from red seaweed that can be found in a wide variety of common foods and beverages such as milk, infant formula, ice cream, almond and soy milk, soup, chip dip and salad dressing.
It’s also an ingredient in some toothpastes, medications, cosmetics and certain weight loss products. Because of its laxative effect, some laxative medications contain carrageenan.1
Although the FDA has labeled carrageenan as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (GRAS), there have been studies linking carrageenan to gastrointestinal ulcers and tumor formation in animal testing.2,3
The European Union has even banned carrageenan from all types of infant formula because of the potential health concerns.4
Besides the possible safety issues with carrageenan, many people experience different levels of allergy or intolerance symptoms when they consume products containing carrageenan.
My Experience with Carrageenan
Carrageenan first came to my attention several years ago when I started getting various gastrointestinal problems after eating certain foods. The most problematic for me were ice cream, soy milk and liquid coffee creamer.
At first, I thought I could be developing lactose intolerance because many of the foods that were making me sick were dairy products. That didn’t however, explain why I had stomach problems after drinking non-dairy milks like almond or soy.
Fed up with feeling bad, I started reading ingredient labels and noticed carrageenan was in everything that I experienced stomach symptoms with. I began avoiding all foods and beverages with carrageenan and my symptoms disappeared. My doctor didn’t feel my symptoms weren’t bad enough to need allergy testing, but it’s an ingredient I try to keep out of my diet.
Because of my experience with carrageenan, it’s a topic I’ve spent time researching and have learned how to avoid this ingredient in the foods and beverages I buy.
Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms
Like other food allergies, carrageenan allergy symptoms can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe.
Here are some possible symptoms of a carrageenan allergy5:
- Abdominal Cramping
- Sinus Pain
- Tingling or Itchy Mouth
While rare, it is possible to have anaphylactic reaction to carrageenan.6
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, extreme form of an allergic reaction that affects the whole body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “anaphylaxis symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. Sometimes, however, it can occur a half-hour or longer after exposure.”7
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis can include: 8
- Skin hives, itching or flushing
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, a cough
- A rapid or slow heart rate
- Abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea or vomiting
If you believe you or someone else is having this type of reaction, seek immediate medical attention or call emergency services.
For a full list of carrageenan allergy symptoms, see Symptoms of Food Allergy -- Carrageenan Gum.
Some Common Foods that May Contain Carrageenan
- Chocolate Milk
- Almond Milk
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk
- Infant Formula
- Liquid Coffee Creamer
- Ice Cream
- Sour Cream
- Cottage Cheese
- Processed Meat
- Cereal Bars
- Snack Dips (Chip Dip, Veggie Dip, etc.)
- Nut Spreads
- Candied Fruit
- Whipped Cream Substitute
- Salad Dressing
- Egg-Based Desserts
- Diet Shakes
Carrageenan Intolerance vs. Carrageenan Allergy
Except for an anaphylactic reaction to carrageenan, symptoms of carrageenan intolerance can be similar to those of a carrageenan allergy.
A doctor or allergist can determine the cause of your symptoms and tell you if allergy testing is necessary.
Conditions with Similar Symptoms to a Carrageenan Allergy
It’s common for people to be unaware they have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance because some symptoms can be mistaken for many other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, other food allergies or sensitivities, the stomach flu, or even food poisoning.
If You Think You Have a Carrageenan Allergy or Intolerance
If your symptoms are serious, seek immediate medical attention.
Discuss your symptoms and concerns with your doctor. They’ll likely want to know what foods you ate and all the symptoms you experienced.
If you do have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance, a healthcare provider can advise you of your next steps.
Tips for Avoiding Products with Carrageenan
- If you have a carrageenan allergy, list it on your phone’s medical ID app, wallet card or medical alert bracelet/necklace. Also have it noted in your medical and pharmacy records since some medications contain carrageenan.
- Carefully read ingredient labels on foods, beverages, cosmetics and medications. Carrageenan is often hiding in a long list of ingredients.
- It’s important to note that carrageenan isn’t always listed as ‘carrageenan’ on ingredient labels, which could make it easy to miss.
Other Names for Carrageenan, according to WebMD1:
- Algue Rouge Marine
- Chondrus crispus
- Chondrus Extract
- Euchema species
- Extrait de Mousse d’Irlande
- Gigartina chamissoi
- Gigartina mamillosa
- Gigartina skottsbergii
- Irish Moss Algae
- Irish Moss Extract
- Mousse d'Irlande
- Red Marine Algae
These are just some of many. If you're ever unsure of a specific ingredient, look it up to be safe.
Look for Carrageenan-Free Food and Beverages
The Cornucopia Institute Shopping Guide to Avoid Organic Foods with Carrageenan is a great resource with comprehensive listings of products that do and don’t contain carrageenan.
Request Carrageenan-Free Foods from Manufacturers
If you find carrageenan listed in some of your favorite products, consider contacting the manufacturer to request they offer a carrageenan-free formula. When manufacturers get feedback from enough consumers, they might consider changing their formula.
Several large manufacturers of dairy products are already offering carrageenan-free formulas as a response to consumer demand.9
Look for a customer service number on the product packaging or send a message through the company’s website to voice your opinion.
Avoid Processed Foods
One way to keep carrageenan out of your diet is to avoid processed foods whenever possible. You won’t have to worry about carrageenan in whole and natural foods.
It’s not easy to remember all the specific products and brands that contain carrageenan. I’ve found it helpful to keep a running list on my phone of what items to avoid as I shop.
1 - CARRAGEENAN: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-710-CARRAGEENAN.aspx?activeIngredientId=710&activeIngredientName=CARRAGEENAN
2 - Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Opinion: Carrageenan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/SCOGS/ucm261246.htm
3 - Tobacman, J. K. (2001, October). Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/
4 - Berkeley Wellness. (2013, March 19). Can Carrageenan Cause Intestinal Disorders and Even Cancer? | Berkeley Wellness. Retrieved from http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/carrageenan-safety
5 - Right Diagnosis from Healthgrades. (n.d.). Symptoms of Food Additive Allergy -- carageenan gum - RightDiagnosis.com. Retrieved from http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/f/food_additive_allergy_carageenan_gum/symptoms.htm
6 - Tarlo, MBBS, S., Dolovich, MD, J., & Listgarten, MD, C. (1995, May). Anaphylaxis to Carrageenan: A pseudo-latex allergy. Retrieved from www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(95)70091-9/pdf
7 - Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Anaphylaxis - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anaphylaxis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20307213
8 - Anaphylaxis - Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaphylaxis
9 - Baden-Mayer, Esq., A. (2012, June 5). Stonyfield Farm & Organic Valley Respond to Consumer Concerns About Carrageenan. Retrieved from https://www.organicconsumers.org/essays/stonyfield-farm-organic-valley-respond-consumer-concerns-about-carrageenan
Have you found this article helpful?
Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, don’t forget to take the Carrageenan Poll near the top of this page.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 carolynkaye
John Maron on September 01, 2019:
I always assumed that Almond milk was giving me dizzy spells because of the almonds in it. I eventually find out that it was not the almonds, but any processed food with carrageenan would give me vertigo.
Gail Hewitt Sutton on September 16, 2018:
The dairy industry in the worse culprit in this problem. I just had an attack from eating whipping cream. It was in a cardboard container not two days later I ate butter and had the same problem. I never had this problem with dairy when I was young and have no hint of lactose intolerance and neither do my family. My question is when does the dairy add this chemical? Is it when the milk is first processed? If so all dairy products are contaminated and eating any of it is like playing Russian Ru-let. If I wanted to take medication I would have it prescribed. This chemical is vicious and in so many foods it would be very easy to over dose on it. Fox Glove is a plant as well. Imagine if they put it in everything they manufactured. By the way, that is what digitalis is made from. If you catch my drift.
amandajosie on February 09, 2018:
I am just so glad I've found this site. Trying to work out exactly what it is that's making me so very ill. Today another anaphylaxis attack. I backtracked on the labelling (very careful to eat non processed food). However ... a sachet of cappuccino had me part paralysed , wheezing stomach bloated etc It adds up with ice cream earlier in the week. I thought dairy but knew it couldn't be. So grateful for the info. Hopefully I can help myself and be aware of others too.
Darlene Dick on January 23, 2018:
Soy, Soy Bean Oil, and now Carrageenan...These additives in our food source have made me sick...I experience 2/3 of the symptoms listed in this article. Six years ago I quit eating Soy & Soy Bean Oil and my acid reflux went away, that began in 1991...now I cannot eat food with Carrageenan...Please Stop adding these ingredients in our food sources..No wonder people are sick and the drug industries are rich!
Richard Dale-Mesaros on January 21, 2016:
My wife and I were getting wicked bad mucus reaction when we had ice cream..... took us a while to realize we got it with Ben and Jerry's vanilla, but not with Haagen Dazs....... turns out B+J has Carrageenan in it and HD doesn't. Anyone else get a monster mucus reaction from B+J vanilla ice cream?!
carolynkaye (author) from USA on October 04, 2013:
Thanks for the comment, Vince C. I've found it difficult to find ice cream that doesn't contain carrageenan these days. Yes, I've also heard about it being in pet foods and that some pets have carrageenan sensitivities.
Vince C. on October 03, 2013:
Just had Edy's ice cream (containing carrageenan) 15 mins later red itchy rash on left forearm. Used an athlete's foot cream, which removed the itch and helped rash go away. In the past I've had these same types of rashes and couldn't figure out the cause. I read somewhere that dermatologist were referring to it as solar dermititis. Also, carrageenan is found in dog foods mainly in wet canned food like Blue Buffalo and other well known dog foods.READ ALL LABELS!