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,
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>