What a ridiculous question that is, right? After all, I’m quite certain no beavers or termites are among the seven regular readers here. Still, some of you might be consuming cellulose from wood and not know it.
This news report is disgusting; and it likely touches just the tip of this iceberg. An excerpt:
Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been processed and manufactured to different lengths for functionality, though use of it and its variant forms (cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, etc.) is deemed safe for human consumption, according to the FDA, which regulates most food industry products. The government agency sets no limit on the amount of cellulose that can be used in food products meant for human consumption. The USDA, which regulates meats, has set a limit of 3.5% on the use of cellulose, since fiber in meat products cannot be recognized nutritionally. ....
Manufacturers use cellulose in food as an extender, providing structure and reducing breakage, said Dan Inman, director of research and development at J. Rettenmaier USA, a company that supplies “organic” cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products. ....
Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper, he added, because “the fiber and water combination is less expensive than most other ingredients in the [food] product.“
Indeed, food producers save as much as 30% in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose as a filler or binder in processed foods, according to a source close to the processed food industry who spoke with TheStreet on the condition of anonymity.
There’s a slideshow accompanying the article that highlights several well-known brand names’ cellulose-containing food products. I wasn’t surprised by any of the names I saw, but I was quite surprised to see that McDonald’s caesar salad—about the only thing I’d consider eating from there—contains cellulose: that puts that place completely off limits to me.
This trend disturbs me deeply on several levels. First, it’s fraud: consumers are paying for food—nutritious stuff their bodies can use for fuel and/or repairs—and cellulose doesn’t meet those criteria for humans. According to the Virtual Chembook of Elmhurst College, “no vertebrate can digest cellulose directly”—even termites rely on gut bacteria for the enzymes to break it down. So, when we buy these food-type substances we’re getting scammed. It is absolutely unconscionable what the supposed food police allow to pass for food these days.
Before someone pipes up that cellulose provides the dietary fiber needed for regular bowel function and can reduce the risk of colon cancer, the page linked above casts doubt on the latter theory. Even if cellulose does do those things—or confers some other as-yet undiscovered role—we have not evolved on a diet of wood fiber. Therefore I doubt it is as benign as its advocates claim.
Our bodies need specific things in order to develop properly: proteins (and their constituent amino acids); fats; and vitamins and minerals are among them. Recent research is finding that the form of these nutrients can also be vitally important: this is why non-natural trans fats got a bad name. If it doesn’t have exactly what it needs to build a cell wall or myelin coating for a neuron, the body will try to use whatever’s available that’s similar. Accumulate enough of the ill-fitting similar stuff, and problems can develop. Two places where the research is quite clear on this point are blood vessels and the gut lining. (For an excellent, highly readable treatment of this and related subjects, read Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food.)
While it may be the case that cellulose does provide some kind of benefit to us, it still makes logical sense to only use it from things we have traditionally consumed. Wood pulp isn’t on that list (tree bark, however, is: cinnamon and sassafrass are two bark products we consume). But then we’re back to the expense of commodity foods, and the processing thereof to get the cellulose ... can you imagine how expensive asparagus–derived cellulose would be? And that just won’t do—gotta keep those profit margins as high as possible!
Padding food products with indigestible foreign matter has likely also contributed to the rising obesity rate in this country. It creates a vicious cycle: one eats a highly processed food-type product, but much of it is indigestible and passes straight through; not having extracted sufficient nutrition from it, the body gets hungry again shortly thereafter; if another processed food-type substance is consumed, the individual is on the treadmill of increasing hunger and thus food consumption, but with inadequate nutrition taken in. Many of these foods are relatively high in carbohydrates rather than fat and protein; and carbs are very easy to convert to body fat for storage.
I also wonder about possible allergenic effects of consuming substances that have never been food for us. Some individuals who are sensitive to corn need to stay away from corn starch and similar processed products that often hide in food-type substances. Might some people who are allergic to certain trees have problems if they consume cellulose from those trees? Or might consuming this stuff help create allergies? Given how little we understand about allergies, it’s fair to say these questions are unanswerable at present.
The more I read about large food producers and food-type substances processors, the less I like. Increasingly, the solution I ponder to the problem is to leave the country. Given that many places, entities, and individuals in the USSA actively work against small-scale, private food producers (even home gardening has come under attack in some places), it seems to be the best choice for retaining control over my food. Very, very sad.