Do you need MORE fiber in your diet? Disturbing!
Is cellulose the latest food additive?
By Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D.
Wood pulp (cellulose) makes ice cream creamier, at least according to a recent newspaper article that's created quite a buzz. I thought I'd provide a bit of background on that surprising claim and give you something to chew on.
The wood pulp the article refers to is cellulose. Cellulose is the basic building block of the cell walls of all plants and is considered a complex carbohydrate. Various forms of cellulose are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food substances according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Small cellulose particles impart a smooth consistency, mouthfeel and stickiness to products such as salad dressings, barbecue sauces and, yes, ice cream. Longer fiber lengths provide structure and a firmer texture to baked goods. Cellulose also helps capture and retain moisture and keeps products from seeming dry.
We're seeing more foods with added fiber, such as cellulose, because most people aren't eating enough foods that are naturally high in fiber — namely vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Manufacturers are also adding cellulose because it means they can use less fat and sugar without losing the desired mouthfeel or moistness. The rising cost of flour, sugar and oil may be another reason for this trend.
How do you feel about the idea of eating cellulose? It may be GRAS, but wouldn't you rather eat fresh fruits and vegetables to get the fiber and the other essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals they provide?
Who's putting wood in your food?
These 10 big restaurant chains and food companies are just some of those that add cellulose to their products. And it may actually be good for you. Let's hope so.
Are you getting what you pay for on your plate? A recent lawsuit against Taco Bell raised questions about the quality of food that Americans eat.
Chief among the general concerns is the use of cellulose (read: wood pulp), an additive used in everything from crackers and ice creams to puddings and baked goods. Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that's processed into cellulose gum, powdered cellulose and other materials. It's also used in plastics, detergents, pet litter and asphalt.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers cellulose safe for human consumption and sets no limit on the amount that can be used in food products. The Department of Agriculture, which regulates meats, has set a content limit of 3.5% on the use of cellulose.
Cellulose adds fiber to food, helping people who don't get the recommended daily intake of fiber in their diets. It also extends the shelf life of processed foods. Plus, cellulose's water-absorbing properties can mimic fat, allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake. Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is a relatively cheap ingredient.
TheStreet has rounded up a list of popular foods that use cellulose. It's not an exhaustive list, so consumers should read food labels carefully.