Dairy Free Winner and Losers: And The Debate Over Carrageenan

Since I began the journey to dairy free (or at least less dairy) over a month ago, I have definitely noticed clearer sinuses and far less congestion even being pregnant at the height of allergy season. I’ve enjoyed trying the wide range of dairy substitutes on the market and have found about half to be hits and half to be misses.

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But before we get into my super scientific study, let’s get into some real science that has me a bit concerned. I recently learned about the danger of Carrageenan (an emulsifying ingredient derived from red seaweed) in many soy, almond, and coconut milk products – even the organic ones. I found this handy guide which lists the brands and products which do and do not contain carrageenan, but am still hard pressed to find an uncanned coconut milk or vegan cheese without it.

There are conflicting opinions on the concern about carrageenan, but overall the green and holistic healthcare community seems to agree that it should be avoided if possible. Now, am I going to switch back to skim versus soy lattes at Starbucks over this? Probably not. But if I were a person with inflammatory bowel disease or felt like I was experiencing digestive issues from the ingredient, I would definitely try harder to avoid it. For now I am of the camp of sticking with the best-tasting carrageenan-free products and accepting the ingredient where I can’t realistically avoid it.

I also know many of you will advise making my own almond or coconut milk and tell me how easy it is – and I am sure it is not super complicated or time consuming. But for now I am not prepared to add one more thing to the DIY list and fortunately my main staple is a C-free almond milk easily available in stores!

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Best Almond Milk: My main staple for cereal, oatmeal, and anything else that calls for milk is Silk PureAlmond Milk. Tastes great, carrageenan free, and easy to find.

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Best Coconut Milk: Coconut Milk has been tricky as I can not seem to find any carrageenan-free varieties apart from the ones that come in a can (inconvenient and also possible BPA). I use coconut milk primarily for my homemade ice pops and have been using So Delicious until I can find a better alternative. I did receive a statement on carrageenan from So Delicious: “For the past year, we’ve been working very hard on reformulating our coconut milk beverage line to remove carrageenan. Although the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) conducted a review of carrageenan in May 2012 and approved its continued use in organic foods, our fans still voiced concerns over the ingredient, so our team decided to proactively look for alternate solutions. As I’m sure you know, it isn’t always easy work to recreate recipes. We want to select top quality ingredients and deliver delicious dairy-free options to kitchen tables across the country. We are very pleased with our progress and recently started sampling our new carrageenan-free recipes with consumers, retailers, and food reporters to get their feedback on our improved coconut milk beverages. We are working on new packaging now and are aiming to have our new products in stores by the end of 2013.”

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Best Mozzarella Sub: I found Daiya mozzarella shreds to be inedible. I was much more open to the flavor of Lisanatti mozzerella-style almond cheese, although my husband tells me it does not melt as promised. But I will take flavor over function any day. That said, not carrageenan free.

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Best Cream Cheese Sub: I was ridiculously excited after tasting the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese spread on a bagel. Seriously so good! Downside: Whopping 2 grams of trans fat per serving! So definitely not for everyday. And also not C-Free. I hear Follow Your Heart tastes just as good and has no trans fat but I haven’t tried it yet.

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Best Butter Sub: Nothing but good things to say about Earth Balance Buttery Spread – great taste, good texture, and C-free.

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Best Treat: So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Almond Bars. Delicious, portioned for “control,” and c-free.

Best American Cheese Sub: The Galaxy Nutritional Foods Rice Slices look and melt like regular American cheese, but the taste is still a bit hard to swallow. If anyone can find a palatable cheddar or American cheese substitute please let me know!

Carrageenan is also found in some regular dairy products. For instance, Stonyfield uses it in just two of its products (Oikos – caramel flavor only and Squeezers) but assure customers that due to customer concern it is being phased out shortly (see why I love that brand!) Again, we are not becoming a totally dairy-free household – especially because Sam can taste the difference between regular and almond milk and is not having it. And I would never deprive him of his yogurt addiction.

Are there any other good d-free (and c-free) products on the market you think I should try?


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