Cellulose & Methylcellulose: Can They Be Ruining Your Health? Part 2—Cellulose In Food

By Catherine J. Frompovich

Most of my research is based upon the work done by others and published online, for which I want to acknowledge that fact and also to thank them for their contributions to the knowledge pool regarding food, nutrition and human health.

If by chance I inadvertently have omitted an attribution, please know it was not intentional, as this project was most time consuming, and I did my best to keep track of giving credit to other people’s work.

The Online Dictionary defines Cellulose this way:


  1. The definition of cellulose is the main substance that makes up the cell walls and fibers of plants. An example of cellulose is the 30% of a tree that can be made into paper.
  2. the chief substance composing the cell walls or fibers of all plant tissue, a polymeric carbohydrate with the general formula (CHO): it is used in the manufacture of paper, textiles, explosives, etc.

However, the Online Encyclopedia gives this dissertation about Cellulose:

Cellulose is one of the most widely used natural substances and has become one of the most important commercial raw materials. The major sources of cellulose are plant fibers (cotton, hemp, flax, and jute are almost all cellulose) and, of course, wood (about 42 percent cellulose).

According to how many atoms they have, there are several different types of carbohydrates, but the simplest and most common in a plant is glucose. Plants make glucose (formed by photosynthesis) to use for energy or to store as starch for later use. A plant uses glucose to make cellulose when it links many simple units of glucose together to form long chains. These long chains are called polysaccharides (meaning “many sugars”).

As the chief constituent (or main ingredient) of the cell walls of plants, cellulose performs a structural or skeletal function. Just as our hard, bony skeletons provide attachment points for our muscles and support our bodies, so the rigidity or stiffness found in any plant is due to the strength of its cell walls. Examined under a powerful microscope, fibers of cellulose are seen to have a meshed or criss-cross pattern that looks as if it were woven much as cloth. The cell wall has been likened to the way reinforced concrete is made, with the cellulose fibers acting as the rebars or steel rods do in concrete (providing extra strength). As the new cell grows, layer upon layer of new material is deposited inside the last layer, meaning that the oldest material is always on the outside of the plant.

Raw cotton is 91 percent cellulose, and its fiber cells are found on the surface of the cotton seed.

[This should be a major concern because most cotton in USA is GMO.]

Importance to human diet
Despite the fact that humans (and many other animals) cannot digest cellulose (meaning that their digestive systems cannot break it down into its basic constituents), cellulose is nonetheless a very important part of the healthy human diet. This is because it forms a major part of the dietary fiber that we know is important for proper digestion. Since we cannot break cellulose down and it passes through our systems basically unchanged, it acts as what we call bulk or roughage that helps the movements of our intestines. Among mammals, only those that are ruminants (cudchewing animals like cows and horses) can process cellulose. This is because they have special bacteria and microorganisms in their digestive tracts that do it for them. They are then able to absorb the broken-down cellulose and use its sugar as a food source. Fungi are also able to break down cellulose into sugar that they can absorb, and they play a major role in the decomposition (rotting) of wood and other plant material. [CJF emphasis]


Can cellulose be digested by humans?

Humans are unable to digest cellulose because the appropriate enzymes to breakdown the beta acetal linkages are lacking. (More on enzyme digestion in a later chapter.) Undigestible [sic] cellulose is the fiber which aids in the smooth working of the intestinal tract. … No vertebrate can digest cellulose directly.


One of the interesting things I came across during my research is that the same kind of pulp used to make paper, winds up in our food! Think about that for a moment.

Here are some examples.

Yes, Organic Valley does use cellulose in our shredded cheeses; it’s a pretty standard anti-caking agent.

We reached out to a supplier of cellulose, Sweetener Supply Corp. The company’s Jon Bodner told us that there have been efforts to extract cellulose from a wide range of plants including oat and soybean hulls, corn stover and even hemp. “But establishing a new supply chain system to accumulate the [plant] materials is cost-prohibitive.”

For instance, lots of customers, Bodner says, are demanding non-genetically modified products. If the cellulose industry were to use corn stalks, leaves and husks or sugar beets, it would be a challenge to keep the supply chain free of genetically modified crop residue.

He says sawdust contains only about 40 percent cellulose. Whereas the powdered cellulose used in foods contains about 97 percent cellulose. [CJF emphasis]

(Source) July 2014

Back on August 31, 1977, The Milwaukee Journal print newspaper published the article “Bakery Defends Its Fiber” wherein ITT Continental Baking Co., Inc. said it was cellulose not sawdust!

However, the deeper I researched cellulose, the more concern I perceived, especially considering this:

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. [CJF emphasis]

(Source) 2011

Knowing the FDA’s history in approving edible ingredients as “deemed safe for human consumption,” I have come to believe is a wiggle-room, “catch all” phrase meaning probably no, or very little, industry human health safety testing was done—similar to what goes on with many vaccines—and the FDA obligingly accepted the MCC industry’s word for “safe.”

Cellulose: Is it a “surrogate product” for real foods in processed foods?

Miriam Reimer of TheStreet wrote an excellent investigative report titled “15 Food Companies That Serve You ‘Wood’”, from which I took the following revealing information about cellulose in food. Thank you, Ms. Reimer!

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.

Plus, cellulose’s water-absorbing properties can mimic fat, he said, allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake.

[The term “organics” can have several rather confusing meanings in science.]

Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper, he [Dan Inman] 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. [….]

He [Inman ]said powdered cellulose has a bad reputation but that more of his customers are converting from things like oat or sugar cane fibers to cellulose because it is “snow white in color, bland and easy to work with.” [….]

[Inman] “I would never have dreamed I could successfully put 18% fiber in a loaf of bread two years ago.”

He said cellulose is common in processed foods, often labeled as reduced-fat or high-fiber — products like breads, pancakes, crackers, pizza crusts, muffins, scrambled eggs, mashed potato mixes, and even cheesecake.

“Most consumers would be shocked to find these types of filler products are used as substitutes for items that they believe are more pure,” Yoshikami [Michael A. Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at YCMNet Advisors] said. “We would expect increased disclosure to follow increased use of cellulose and other filler products as the practice increases in frequency.”

To that end, TheStreet rounded up a list of popular foods that use cellulose. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and we suggest consumers read food labels carefully. [CJF emphasis]

At the end of Ms. Reimer’s fantastic article, there’s a listing of foods containing cellulose, which by no means is complete. If all were listed, the list probably could go on for hundreds of pages. Therein, in my opinion as a retired healthcare professional, just may be the unknown, and hidden, problem to many digestive and gut problems emanating from two unsuspecting sources:

  1. Methylcellulose and cellulose in pharmaceuticals, OTC drugs and nutritional supplements;
  2. Cellulose used as ubiquitous fillers and surrogates for field-grown-food-crops in processed foods.

My research Conclusion

Even though processed cellulose is roughage, which is needed in the diet in the form of organic fruits and vegetables—not tree fiber, MCC and processed tree cellulose may be too rough for the human digestive system, plus there may be too much dumped into the average American’s diet considering the increasing trends toward more pharmaceuticals, cost-cutting on product ingredients, and highly processed, raw-food-enzyme-free edibles.

Link to Part 1, Ingredients

Catherine J Frompovich (website) is a retired natural nutritionist who earned advanced degrees in Nutrition and Holistic Health Sciences, Certification in Orthomolecular Theory and Practice plus Paralegal Studies. Her work has been published in national and airline magazines since the early 1980s. Catherine authored numerous books on health issues along with co-authoring papers and monographs with physicians, nurses, and holistic healthcare professionals. She has been a consumer healthcare researcher 35 years and counting.

Catherine’s latest book, published October 4, 2013, is Vaccination Voodoo, What YOU Don’t Know About Vaccines, available on Amazon.com.

Her 2012 book A Cancer Answer, Holistic BREAST Cancer Management, A Guide to Effective & Non-Toxic Treatments, is available on Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook.

Two of Catherine’s more recent books on Amazon.com are Our Chemical Lives And The Hijacking Of Our DNA, A Probe Into What’s Probably Making Us Sick (2009) and Lord, How Can I Make It Through Grieving My Loss, An Inspirational Guide Through the Grieving Process (2008)

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