Almond milk has quickly become a staple in many households, especially as people continue to turn to dairy-free plant alternatives in place of traditional cow’s milk.
In fact, almond milk is the most popular non-dairy milk due, in part, to its pleasant texture and subtly nutty flavor. And that’s no surprise, given that it’s not only super versatile and tasty, but also low in calories, carbs, and fat.
Despite all the health benefits of the drink, it did come with a few drawbacks. Experts say one of the most common side effects of consuming almond milk is stomach upset– and an additive called carrageenan is probably to blame.
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“Many commercial almond milks contain additives such as sugar, salt, gum, lecithin and flavorings,” says Gina Keatley, CDN, a certified dietitian nutritionist at Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City. “And carrageenan as an additive can cause gastrointestinal distress,” she adds.
So what exactly is carrageenan? It is basically an ingredient extracted from red algae that is often used in a wide range of processed foods, as a thickening agent. Even though carrageenan looks natural and is technically derived from a plant source, that doesn’t indicate that it’s healthy to consume it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this particular type of carbohydrate is also indigestible.
According to the FDA, carrageenan is generally recognized as safe, which is why it is an approved additive in the United States. That said, a 2017 study published in the journal Molecular nutrition and food research found that carrageenan can disrupt gut health by causing gut inflammation, among other potential negative side effects.
Other research points to a possible link between carrageenan and digestive problems like inflammatory bowel disease, as well as poor blood sugar control. Some evidence suggests that it can trigger gastrointestinal ulcers.
But for every study that highlights the negative gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan, there is another that disproves these results. So the jury is still out on this ingredient until further human studies are conducted. However, if you notice that your stomach hurts after drinking almond milk or if you have a digestive disorder like IBS, Chrohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, it may be wise to avoid the products. based on carrageenan. Those with sensitive stomachs may also have problems tolerating the additive.
This means taking a look at the ingredient list for all the foods you buy or looking for a “carrageenan free” label. Fun fact: In 2016, the Organic Standards Board voted to eliminate all products containing carrageenan, so any brand of almond milk with the USDA Organic label does not contain the questionable additive.
For more advice, be sure to check out the best and worst brands of oat milk to buy, dietitians say. So, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.