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One Major Side Effect of Drinking Almond Milk, Says Dietitian

A controversial additive found in the beverage is likely to blame for this stomach issue.

Almond milk has quickly become a staple in many households, especially as people continue to turn to dairy-free, plant-based alternatives in place of traditional cow's milk.

In fact, almond milk happens to be the most popular non-dairy milk due, in part, to its pleasant texture and subtly nutty flavor. And that's no surprise, considering it's not only super versatile and tasty, but also low in calories, carbs, and fat.

Despite all of the beverage's health benefits, though, it had a few drawbacks. Experts say that one of the most common side effects of drinking almond milk is stomach troubles—and an additive called carrageenan is likely to blame.

 The 8 Best Almond Milks to Buy, According To Dietitians

"Many commercial almond milks contain additives such as sugar, salt, gum, lecithin, and flavors," says Gina Keatley, CDN, a certified dietitian nutritionist at Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City. "And carrageenan as an additive can cause GI distress," she adds.

So, what is carrageenan, exactly? Essentially, it's an ingredient extracted from red seaweed that's often used in a wide range of processed foods, as a thickening agent. Even though carrageenan sounds natural, and is technically derived from a plant-based source, that doesn't indicate that it's healthy to consume regularly. Unfortunately, this particular type of carbohydrate also happens to be indigestible.

milk almond

According to the FDA, carrageenan is generally recognized as safe—which explains why it's an approved additive in the United States. That said, one 2017 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that carrageenan may disrupt gut health by causing intestinal inflammation, among other potential negative side effects.

Other research pinpoints a possible link between carrageenan and digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease, as well as poor blood sugar control. There's some evidence that suggests it may trigger gastrointestinal ulcerations.

But for every study highlighting the negative GI effects of carrageenan, there's another one refuting these findings. So, the jury may still be out on this ingredient until more human studies are conducted. Still, if you notice your stomach hurts after drinking almond milk or you have a digestive disorder like IBS, Chrohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis, it may be wise to avoid any products made with carrageenan. Those who have a sensitive stomach may also have issues tolerating the additive.

That means taking a peek at the ingredients list on any foods you buy or looking for a "carrageenan-free" label. Fun fact: In 2016, the Organic Standards Board voted to eliminate any products containing carrageenan—so any almond milk brand that has the USDA Organic label doesn't contain the questionable additive.

For more tips, be sure to check out The Best & Worst Oat Milk Brands to Buy, Say Dietitians. Then, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more about Rebecca
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