One of the main purposes of this blog you are reading is to make you an informed shopper. I spend a lot of time trying to steer you towards the best tasting foods like in my How to Shop for the Perfect Peach post. I also try to steer my readers towards good deals like you see my Cheeses Under $5 at Costco post. My other mission is for people to be informed on what is in their food.
My philosophy is to try and make the best decisions you can without too much stress. Let's face it, stress isn't good for you either. Personally, I try to strike a balance. Fretting about what is in the ice cream at an ice cream shop when I am on vacation with my family leads to anxiety. I am going to enjoy life. On the flip side, when I go to the grocery store (by myself with plenty of time) and have options, I am going to look at what's my food. That brings me to the topic of this post, shopping for chicken. Specifically what is in the chicken I put and even more specifically chicken that contains carrageenan as an ingredient.
My Trip to the Grocery Store
Let me paint a picture for you. On a recent trip to Kroger to gather some ingredients, I was in the mood for making my own chicken gyro sandwich. I have eaten a few of these over the last few months at coney island restaurants here in Michigan. We have them on every corner here. For those not from this area, a typical coney island restaurant is a diner-type place. They sell coney dogs - hot dogs topped off with some type of chili. A lot of them also have Greek food on their menu. Gyros are very common. These sandwiches are served in pita bread with some veggies (tomatoes and onions typically) and Tzatziki sauce - which is a dairy based sauce with cucumber and other seasonings in it. I was ready to make one of these sandwiches at home.
As I looked over the chicken selection at Kroger. I found some boneless skinless chicken breasts for $1.99 per pound. Sounds like a great deal right? That is when I looked at the ingredient list. Yes there is an ingredient list that goes beyond chicken.
The one ingredient that got my attention was carrageenan. I don't really know what that is. I opted to spend more money on chicken that had no ingredients but chicken until I informed myself more.
What is Carrageenan in Chicken?
It is a type of red seaweed. They turn the seaweed into a "food grade" products and use it as thickner, sybtlizier, What is it doing in my chicken? Carrageenan helps the chicken to retain water (learn more here). That is the water that they added to the chicken to begin with.
Why to Avoid Carrageenan in Chicken?
There are many sources out there say that carrageenan causes inflammation in the body. Our digestion system isn't good at taking care of it. That is concerning. I think inflammation is a big problem in this country and that is leads to many health issues. Our bodies struggle to digest some of our modern foods. Why I haven't done all the scientific research myself I am going to opt to avoid this ingredient in chicken.
Whether you agree or not that carrageenan is a bad thing - I have another reason to avoid it. Carrageenan is not put in the chicken alone. It is included with water, salt, and/or chicken broth (up to 15%). When that is added you are paying for the ingredients. It adds weight to the chicken. I prefer not to pay that added cost to water, salt, chicken broth, and carrageenan. That means whatever per pound price you are paying for the chicken you are paying for water, salt, chicken broth, and/or carrageenan. No thanks. I would rather season my chicken completely myself. I just want to buy chicken with nothing but chicken in it. This is what is often found in "cheap chicken".
What to Look For
Whenever buying chicken where it is a whole chicken or cut into any of the parts, whether bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless, read the packaging. If it contains anything more than chicken, move on. Most grocery stores will have an option that is just chicken. It might be more expensive but you will be getting all meat, no added "goodies".
What Else is Carrageenan
It is used in a lot of dairy products. One chocolate milk brand - Cocoa Metro that I reviewed last year has removed it from their product. If you are concerned about carrageenan being in your dairy or dairy alternative products, check out this guide that lists what brands it is in and what brands it is not in.
My Final Thoughts
It is possible that carrageenan is going to be in the ice cream I am buying for my kids on vacation. Yes. I am going to be afraid to step into the shop? No. I am not going to over worry myself. It's ultimately your decision on how you approach food. I am going to do so in a not stressful approach. When it easy to avoid, like in buying chicken in the store I am going to do it - acting on the side of caution. I am not and will never claim to be a nutritionist. I will do what I feel is right and I hope for you to do the same. If you disagree, that's ok and if you agree, that's ok!