Hidden Non-Dairy Milk Additives

Semi-homemade Coconut MilkEating real food means avoiding additives. That includes additives commonly found in “health” products, particularly non-dairy plant-based milks. Most non-dairy milks on the market, including soy milk, hemp milk, almond milk and coconut milk, use food additives to thicken, stabilize, help keep proteins suspended and extend shelf life. To avoid buying non-dairy plant milks with additives try these easy alternatives:


  • MAKE YOUR OWN NUT OR SEED MILK // Sarah Britton of My New Roots has a great little video about how to do this at home, The Kitchn gives great step-by-step instructions and this nut-milk bag makes it all that much easier.
  • TRY OUR EASY SEMI-HOMEMADE COCONUT MILK  // An affordable, quick and healthy semi-homemade alternative.
  • BUY REAL, RAW, LOCAL DAIRY MILK // Check out Real Milk.com to explore why drinking raw, local milk can benefit you, your community and the environment. This website is also a resource for finding raw milk state by state. 





CARRAGEENAN: Carrageenan is a thickener, stabilizer and texturizer derived from seaweed. It is industrially processed using potassium hydroxide and is used in a wide variety of products such as desserts, beer, shampoos, diet sodas and plant milks.


 Joanne K. Tobacman, M.D., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, has extensively studied the effects of carrageenan on the human body. Dr. Tobacman’s studies have overwhelmingly shown that carrageenan causes an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as cancer.


Both Dr. Andrew Weil and Chris Kresser have written about the effects of carrageenan and recommend avoiding his additive.


Cornicopia.org has produced a very useful shopping guide for avoiding products containing carrageenan.


BOTTOM LINE // Out of all thickeners commonly added to non-dairy milks, this seems to be the most harmful to the body. Try to avoid. //




XANTHAN GUM: Xanthan gum is a thickener and stabilizer, which is the product of bacterial fermentation; specifically, it is the polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. It can be derived from common allergens, such as corn, soy or wheat. The process of producing anthem gum was discovered in the 1960s and is rather involved:

(From Wikipedia): The polysaccharide is prepared by inoculating a sterile aqueous solution of carbohydrate(s), a source of nitrogen, dipotassium phosphate, and some trace elements. The medium is well-aerated and stirred, and the polymer is produced extracellularly into the medium….After fermentation that can vary in time from one to four days, the polymer is precipitated from the medium by the addition of isopropyl alcohol, and the precipitate is dried and milled to give a powder that is readily soluble in water or brine.

Xanthan gum seems to be less harmful to the body than carrageenan, but can cause intestinal irritation, including bloating and diarrhea.


BOTTOM LINE // Referencing back to our food philosophy, xanthan gum is not something you could easily produce at home; it is a chemically produced additive made in a lab. Although it seems to be better than carrageenan, avoid if possible. //




GELLAN GUM: Gellan gum is similar to xanthan gum; it is a polysaccharide produced by bacterial fermentation and has been shown to negatively effect the intestinal tract of rats. 


BOTTOM LINE // Avoid if possible. //




LOCUST BEAN GUM (also known as carob bean gum): Locust bean gum is a thickening and gelling agent derived from the seeds of the carob tree. This gum is derived from a whole food and it is obtained without the use of chemicals or an elaborate extracting process.


BOTTOM LINE // Consumed in small doses, locust bean gum seems to be safe. It would still be preferable to consume milk without locust bean gum added. //




GUAR GUM: Unlike xanthan gum, guar gum is made from a whole food: it is the ground endosperm of guar beans. In non-dairy milks it is used to thicken milk and maintain homogeneity and texture. Aside from being a food additive, guar gum has many industrial applications – from the textile industry to the explosives industry. Guar gum is capable of reducing the body’s ability to absorb dietary minerals from the food consumed alongside it. Guar gum is soluble fiber and can therefore have a laxative effect.


BOTTOM LINE // Guar gum is a better option than xanthan gum, but may be irritating for people with intestinal issues. //




GUM ARABIC: Gum arabic is a stabilizer derived from the sap of the acacia tree. Historically cultivated and derived from a whole food, this gum seems to be rather safe.


BOTTOM LINE // Consumed in small doses, gum arabic seems to be safe. It would still be preferable to consume milk without gum arabic added. //




NATURAL FLAVORS:  Natural flavors are created by flavorists in a lab but derived from natural sources. The FDA doesn’t require that food producers to reveal their secret formulas (though all food additives and natural flavors must come from the FDA’s “Generally Regarded as Safe” list). Natural flavors are often added to substitute for more expensive ingredients or to increase shelf stability. They can be made with common allergens, such as soy or corn, as well as animal products. To view the USDA’s Code of Federal Regulations for “natural flavors,” click here. 


BOTTOM LINE //  It would be difficult to make these “natural flavors” at home. Although they are derived from natural sources, they are isolated and re-formulated in a lab environment. Avoid! //




LECITHIN (Soy & Sunflower): Lecithin is a fatty substance occurring in animal and plant tissues, which as as an emulsifier or lubricant. Lecithins are extracted chemically and were first isolated in 1846. They are highly processed and often obtained from genetically modified crops.


BOTTOM LINE // Lecithin is an isolate and, while present in whole foods, does not exist on its own in nature. Although it seems to be safe in small quantities, avoid if possible. //





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