My family and I have been following a mostly whole foods diet where we cut out processed foods, limit our consumption of dairy, sugar, grains / legumes and eat lots of fruits & vegetables, meats (free range & grass fed) and seafood (wild caught). With this shift in eating, we have also started substituting dairy milk with non-dairy alternatives such as almond milk or coconut milk. It turns out that going with a milk substitute may not be as healthy as I thought it was. Since it turns out that many non-dairy milks contain a controversial ingredient - carrageenan.
Carrageenan is a substance extracted from a red seaweed which sounds harmless. However, despite it's natural origins, it is highly processed and believed to cause gastrointestinal inflammation. Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are advised to avoid this ingredient as it can make symptoms worse. Even if you don't have gastrointestinal disorder, it is best to avoid this ingredient since it can still cause inflammation. Studies have shown chronic inflammation to be a root cause of serious diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has formally classified it as a potential human carcinogen.
Even with this classification, this ingredient is a commonly used additive as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier in both conventional and organic products. It is used in dairy products - ice creams, yoghurt, sour cream, whipped cream - and non-dairy alternatives - soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk. It is even found in toothpaste. Most often it is used to keep the mixed ingredients from separating, improve texture or in low-fat/ non-fat foods as a fat substitute.
For more information on the health impact of carrageenan, take a look at the research done by Cornucopia and make your own informed decision. There seems to be a lot of debate surrounding carrageenan that for now, I am adding this to my list of ingredients to avoid;. Luckily, there are manufacturers that have voluntarily eliminated this ingredient and are using safer alternatives. Click on this shopping guide for a comprehensive list of brands and products made without carrageenan.