From Instagram to TikTok to podcasts, there’s a ton of information floating around about the ingredients found in many plant-based milks. There’s carrageenan, xanthan gum, lecithin, and more, and they’re often framed as “scary” or “unhealthy,” which is a little understandable in some ways. If you were to pull a plant-based milk out of your pantry or refrigerator right now and look at the list of ingredients, there is a very It is very likely that you will notice some additives and ingredients that you are not fully informed about.
But are these ingredients so scary? Should we avoid them for the sake of our health?
Since most of us have little understanding of what the heck carrageenan and other plant-based dairy ingredients are, it seems like a good time to get to the bottom of it. Here’s what you need to know about some common ingredients found in plant milks.
carrageenan is a food additive made from red algae that is often used in almond milk and other plant-based milks as a thickener, emulsifier, or stabilizer. A big reason carrageenan is used so often in these products is that it is plant-based, while gelatin and many other thickeners are made from animal products.
Is it safe to consume carrageenan?
carrageenan comes in two forms – food grade (non-degraded) and degraded. Undegraded carrageenan is FDA approved for human consumption and said to be safe for food use, while degraded carrageenan is not approved for use in food and has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
There is something controversy about the health effects of both forms of carrageenan. Studies show that even food-grade carrageenan can cause potential side effects such as bloating, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal ulcers, and other gastrointestinal problems. It is challenging to conduct this type of study in humans for several reasons, which is why most carrageenan studies are done in animals.
“Some researchers believe that potential adverse gastrointestinal side effects could be related to the consumption of carrageenan, even the food-safe type, as it breaks down during digestion,” said the registered dietitian. Maddie Pasquariello. “That said, as a registered dietitian, I have not seen any conclusive evidence that would lead me to remove this ingredient from my diet entirely.” She adds that we may never know with 100% certainty whether carrageenan is harmful, due to research limitations.
It’s hard to say whether or not carrageenan is safe, and some registered dietitians recommend avoiding it altogether. People who tend to experience gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming carrageenan products may feel better by eliminating this ingredient from their diet or consuming it in moderation, Pasquariello said.
“Many consumers fear additives in food, but the truth is that these additives serve a very functional purpose in not only improving the taste of our foods, but also making them safe for consumption.”
– Rachel Fine, Registered Dietitian
“Natural flavors” is a somewhat vague term that describes ingredients that are derived from plant and animal products, such as spices, fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy products, meat and eggs, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. (FDA).
Natural flavors are added to non-dairy milks to enhance their taste. They’re often added to make the milk taste more like the beverage’s base ingredient, such as almonds, soy or oats, or to give it a distinctive flavor profile, registered dietitians explained.
Are natural flavors safe to consume?
Natural flavors are regulated and said to be safe for consumption, but they’re not necessarily “healthier” or safer than artificial flavors, one registered dietitian said. rachel well. It’s important to understand that the term “natural” can be a bit misleading here. Natural flavors are not necessarily ingredients that come directly from the earth. Sure, the ingredient can be derived from a plant or animal product, but then it can be synthetically enhanced with preservatives and other ingredients.
Because natural flavors are so loosely defined, someone buying a plant-based milk may not know exactly what is in the natural flavors that have been added. So it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll experience side effects after consumption, the registered dietitian said. Shirlene Reid. She goes on to explain that if the natural flavor does not contain a common allergen like eggs or milk, the FDA does not require food manufacturers to disclose what is in their natural flavors.
Think of it this way: “If you go to Silk’s website and look at the ingredient list for their original almond milk, they only list the term natural flavors as an ingredient, not the actual ingredient,” Reid said. “Until the FDA requires manufacturers to list specific ingredients in natural flavors, there is no way to know if the flavor contains chemicals that are harmful to human consumption.”
If you read the ingredient lists of your non-dairy milks, you have probably come across guar gum or other gums such as xanthan, gellan or carob. These gums are added to vegetable milks as stabilizers and emulsifiers, often helping to mix or thicken things. “These bind the ingredients together, keeping them emulsified and suspended,” Fine explained. “Some gums, like xanthan gum, help thicken milk to a desirable consistency.”
If you buy a plant-based milk that is made with just a nut or seed and water (ie no other additives), you may notice a separation between a liquid layer and a more pulpy layer at the bottom. “Since nuts and seeds contain fat, when they are mixed and combined with water, the two don’t want to mix, so a natural separation will occur,” Pasquariello said.
Another interesting thickener you’ll see often is oil (sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, coconut oil, or palm oil, and more), which is used for its emulsifying properties.
Are these gummies safe to consume?
The registered dietitians we spoke with say the short answer is yes. But some people may experience side effects such as an upset stomach (especially with guar gum and xanthan gum), depending on how much they consume. AN recent study In the diary microbiology of nature found that xanthan gum can alter the gut microbiome in ways that could potentially affect gut health and caloric intake.
Lecithin is a commonly used additive in commercial food production. It is added to plant-based milks as an emulsifier, to help combine different ingredients like oats, nuts, or seeds with water. You might see it on an ingredient list like sunflower lecithin or soy lecithin.
Is lecithin safe to consume?
Studies show that consuming lecithin is safe, and some people even take it as a supplement. But there are some potential downsides to this additive. “Depending on the amount consumed, lecithin can cause adverse gastrointestinal side effects, including diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain,” Pasquariello said. Although he noted that this side effect is mostly seen when lecithin is taken as a supplement.
“Very few side effects have been seen in the scientific literature from consuming amounts of food, such as the amount found in plant-based milk,” he told us.
Tips to keep in mind when buying plant-based milks
Navigating the US food system is challenging, including buying plant-based milks. But registered dietitians have some tips to make things a little easier.
Pay attention to the ingredients. “A lot of people who buy plant-based milks, who aren’t allergic to regular milk, buy them because they may think they’re getting a healthier form of milk,” Reid said. “It’s important to know what’s really in milk before you buy it to prevent future health problems.”
Choose products with simple ingredient lists, if that’s important to you. “If you care that your plant-based milk is made with the simplest ingredients possible, and you have the ability to access such products, you may want to buy brands that list only two or three ingredients (such as nuts, seeds, or oats). , more water and sea salt),” Pasquariello advised.
Just because an ingredient isn’t familiar doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmful to your health. “Many consumers fear additives in food, but the truth is that these additives serve a very functional purpose in not only improving the flavor of our foods but also making them safe for consumption,” Fine said. “Despite common myths, the safety of these ingredients has been thoroughly tested.”
Know that, for the most part, plant-based milks are safe to consume. “If you can’t access plant-based milk made with just a few ingredients, it’s not something to worry too much about,” Pasquariello said.