Who’s Looking Out for Our Kids?

When you were pregnant, you probably read all of the books on how to have a safe pregnancy, delivery and get through those first few important months of being a mom. Will I use cloth diapers or disposables? Will I co-sleep or will my baby sleep in a crib down the hall? Will I go back to work or will I stay at home with my baby? Will I breastfeed or bottle feed? These are often hotly debated topics and there is no one right answer. No matter the decisions that you made, you did your research and made the right choices that fit with your lifestyle and preferences.

Keep in mind when doing your research that not all information is created equal. As moms, we only want what is best for our kids. It’s up to us to understand the research, know the intent of the recommendations and draw our own conclusions.

One such “hot topic” is the use of carrageenan in shelf-stable products, including infant formula. Almost every shelf-stable product requires some type of stabilizer to keep it fresh for the duration of its journey from factory to market to your child’s belly. But, is it safe?

What Is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a soluble fiber sourced from red seaweed. It is a common ingredient in foods such as ice cream, chocolate milk, soy milk and lowfat yogurt, is vegan, kosher and halal, and is often used as a thickener in place of petrochemical and animal-based products.

What’s the Debate?

In your research about which healthy foods to feed your kids, you may have come across some claims about carrageenan and its safety. There is a lot of information out there claiming that carrageenan may contribute to inflammation, cancer and diabetes. Of course you don’t want to feed your child an additive that could cause one of those disorders!

Much of the information linking carrageenan to illness and disease was propagated by Dr. Joanne Tobacman and spread via the Cornucopia Institute, a special-interest group. In fact, the Cornucopia Institute was instrumental in getting carrageenan removed from some of the most trusted organic brands including Whole Foods 365, Newman’s, O Organics, Wegmans and Costco/Kirkland—the world’s largest retailer of organic products. Could all of these companies have gotten it wrong? In a word, no.

Look Behind the Curtain

Why would Dr. Tobacman and the Cornucopia Institute want carrageenan removed from products, specifically organic ones? It most likely comes down to the dollar. On its website, the Cornucopia Institute describes itself as an organic industry watchdog. But, who is behind Cornucopia? As it turns out, it is backed by Organic Valley, the largest organic farmer-owned cooperative in the world. When large corporations like Newman’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods 365 and more got into the organic foods game, they could produce the same safe, quality organic products, but for a cheaper price and with longer shelf life. It was in the Cornucopia Institute’s best interest to find a way to discredit these products.

No Doubt About It—Carrageenan Is Safe

After the 79th meeting of JECFA, an international scientific expert committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the organization published results of an extensive expert review of studies addressing the safety of carrageenan. This group is an independent body of renowned scientists with no vested interest in whether or not carrageenan is used in food products. It concluded that food-grade carrageenan is, indeed, safe.

Of note was one study (Sherry, Flewelling & Smith) that evaluated full-term infants given liquid formula containing carrageenan for the first six months of life. They were compared with infants given powder-based formula not containing carrageenan. Both groups were observed for the frequency of symptomatic upper-respiratory-tract infections. The study found no significant ill effects among the group that had formula with carrageenan in it. In fact, there was a slightly higher proportion of infants given formula containing carrageenan that were illness-free during the first six months of life.

Whatever you decide for your family regarding diapering, sleeping arrangements, working out of the house or what you feed your child, just remember to do your research. With a sharp eye for uncovering details and motivation, a mom will always make the best choices for her family.