Would you eat wood? If you answered a resounding “No” to this question, think again. Powdered cellulose (aka processed virgin wood pulp), is a binder and filler used in all types of foods, especially high-fiber and reduced-fat products. “Powdered cellulose is made by cooking raw plant fiber—usually wood—in various chemicals to separate the cellulose,” says the Wall Street Journal, and it’s even used in organic products.
Considered safe for human consumption by the FDA, many companies tout powdered cellulose’s benefits as a source of fiber. Though it is technically a fiber source, it mainly acts as a filler, provides better structure, and strengthens food to stand up to shipping. “Food producers save as much as 30 percent in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose as a filler or binder in processed foods,” over more expensive oils or flours, according to a source quoted by thestreet.com. Adding powdered cellulose filler lets manufacturers remove as much as “50 percent of the fat from some cookies, biscuits, cakes and brownies” while increasing fiber content, said thestreet.com’s source.
Cellulose and its cousins–microcrystalline cellulose, carboxymethyl cellulose and cellulose gum—are also found in white bread with added fiber, pre-shredded cheese, vegetarian burgers, chicken nuggets, low-fat ice cream, and much more. However, any health benefits of additional fiber from powdered cellulose will not cancel out the negative dietary impact of additional sugar, corn syrup, and white flour added to these products to improve the taste.
Would you buy a product that listed “wood pulp” as an ingredient? Read ingredient lists and find out what you are really eating, and then decide if these fillers are something you want to pay for. Though harmless, cellulose is essentially just a cheap filler. Naturally occurring fiber, in whole, unprocessed foods, is bound with vitamins and minerals. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are excellent fiber sources, giving the consumer nutritional benefits beyond just the fiber.