Ingredient Profile #4: Cellulose

Did you know that you have more than likely consumed wood if you’ve ever eaten  packaged shredded cheese?  Crazy, right?  Cellulose, an additive incorporated into various dairy products, as well as other foods,p is a filler or binder that mimics the effects of flour and oil, and is now being used by a growing number of processed food companies.  It’s a less costly, if chemical, way to thicken foods and reduce shipping costs while simultaneously increasing their fiber content.  In particular, cellulose is a member of the hydrocolloid family, and consists of wood pulp.  To create cellulose in the powdered form, manufacturers must first cook raw plant fiber (mostly wood) with an assortment of other chemicals in order to separate the cellulose.  After this occurs, the cellulose mixture is purified and then taken to the final stage of processing, where it interacts with acid to fully decompose any remaining plant fibers (Nassauer).

Some say that cellulose is absolutely fine to consume, as we consume it through a variety of other plant and grain sources from the Earth, but this is not the case.  The cellulose or plant fibers that enter your body after you eat a vegetable aren’t the same plant fibers that you’d be consuming after you finished a handful of shredded cheese or a dollop of sour cream with cellulose powder in the ingredient list.  In fact, the cellulose found in a majority of dairy products has been heavily processed.  It’s man-made from a scientific laboratory, instead of originating from the Earth.  Therefore, the bottom line is that not all cellulose is the same…you have to be careful about where you’re getting it from (Michaelis).

If the thought of eating processed wood pulp and plant fibers disgusts you, there are ways to limit, if not eradicate this additive from your diet.  As mentioned above, one of the most common places cellulose is found is in shredded cheeses.  Just as an aside, even companies like Organic Valley use it, so just because the product is organic doesn’t mean that it is additive-free (Michaelis).  Anyway, you can always opt to purchase an entire block of cheese at the supermarket and shred it yourself.  This will not only save you money, as the bigger blocks of cheese tend to be much cheaper than the bags of shredded cheese, but you will also be avoiding excess chemicals.  In addition, begin to purchase dairy products that are full fat, rather than the low/reduced fat or “skinny” replicas.  This may seem counterintuitive, but in actuality, when manufacturers extract fat out of normally fatty foods, the only option they are left with is to compensate with added fillers and man-made chemicals in order to provide a creamy mouth-feel (Michaelis).

Obviously, the FDA and our federal government allows cellulose to be added to certain food products, but I’d be interested in whether or not you feel the name of this additive is misleading.  Should ingredient labels boast “chemically processed wood pulp”  or “chemically processed plant fibers” in order for consumers to properly understand what they’re buying, or do you think that the naming of this ingredient is appropriate?  Let me know!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

M. Kristen. “Would You Like Some Wood Pulp In Your Shredded Cheese?” FoodRegenade. Food Regenade. 2013. Web. 28 May 2013. <http://www.foodrenegade.com/would-like-some-wood-pulp-your-shredded-cheese/>

Nassauer, Sarah. “Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier.” Wall Street Journal. 4 May 2011: Web. Dow Jones Company, Inc. 28 May 2013. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916>

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4 thoughts on “Ingredient Profile #4: Cellulose

  1. Sam L.

    Great job with the post! It’s really eye-opening; once again, you bring up the argument over whether or not something processed is “good for you” despite the fact that it comes from natural sources. Interestingly enough, one of the most obvious and prolific of these chemicals are the “added vitamins and minerals” that you see on everything from orange juice to pita pockets. Calcium can be rather suspicious, for example, since it can be made from ground-up bones, and sometimes comes from China and India, I’ll let your mind wander for a moment on that one…

    Sugar is also heavily refined; A “How It’s Made”-type video I saw a few years ago made the refining process look more like steel smelting than food making. Just to get the cane separated sometimes requires the use of truck-mounted flamethrowers! It’s then thrown in a chemical cocktail consisting of lime, among other things, and, well, you get the picture. Would you rather have these ingredients produced in a lab or extensively refined from a “natural” source?

    1. Sammy, you are so right about sugar being heavily refined. In fact, after sugar goes through it’s refining process, it is devoid of the natural minerals found in the sugar beet or cane. In other words, very empty calories with zero nutritional value. As to whether or not I’d rather have ingredients produced in a lab or extensively refined from a natural source, I have to say that either way isn’t so appealing. Stick with whole foods whenever possible! 🙂 Thank you for your comments…I really appreciate them! Katie

  2. Jen

    Okay that is just plain disgusting! Thank you Katie, I had no idea that this was so prevalent, I mean who doesn’t love cheesy eggs…easy to make with shredded cheese, but now I am kind of wishing I just had cereal this morning! Blocks of organic cheese it is!

    As an aside, referring back to your blog on Mountain Dew and its contents. I shared that blog (as I do all of the blogs with my friends) with one of my Nurse friends who is going back to school for her RN degree. She chose that topic for her research and received an A. She is very grateful to you!

  3. Ginny

    Wow, Katie, I had absolutely NO idea that’s what cellulose was. I think the naming is definitely inappropriate, and I feel that a “real food” should be used as a filler. Again, a wonderful article to help us become more educated on this timely subject!

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