Nutrition-wise blog

Is cellulose the latest food additive?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. May 18, 2011

Wood pulp 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?

- Jennifer

May 18, 2011