Would You Like Some Wood Pulp In Your Shredded Cheese?

QUICK! What keeps pre-packaged shredded cheese from clumping, low-fat ice cream creamy, and pre-made milk shakes smooth? You guessed it! WOOD PULP. They call it “cellulose,” but it’s just powdered wood pulp. The industry loves this stuff. It’s cheap. It helps stabilize food, lowers fat content, increases fiber. Did I say it’s cheap?

As the prices of other food ingredients rise, food manufacturers are increasingly turning to cellulose so that they can keep production costs low. Even big organic brands like Organic Valley are not immune from the appeal.


Organic Valley uses powdered cellulose made from wood pulp in its shredded-cheese products. The company would prefer not to use a synthetic ingredient, but cellulose is bland, white and repels moisture, making it the favored choice over products such as potato starch, says Tripp Hughes, director of product marketing for Organic Valley. (source)

The appeal of cellulose as an additive

During the past two years, sales of cellulose have increased by 8%. This, when the average annual increase is 3%. What accounts for the rise in popularity? The Wall-Street Journal reports:

While some food manufactures say they aren’t increasing the percentage of cellulose in their products, others are boosting the amount of fiber in their foods with cellulose and other ingredients. Companies can save money by using it, even though it costs more by weight than conventional ingredients. Cellulose gives food “more water, more air, a creamy feeling in [the] mouth with less of other ingredients,” and only a very small amount is needed, says Niels Thestrup, vice president of the hydrocolloids department for Danisco AS. The Copenhagen-based company makes ingredients and enzymes for food, cleaning supplies and other products.

This is why cellulose gets added to non-fat and low-fat foods like low-fat ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, and non-dairy creamers, among others. It gives the mouth-feel of creaminess when the real cream is removed. If you aren’t already avoiding low-fat versions of real foods, perhaps this will provide you with the final push you need to change to eating full-fat, real food. After all, not only is full-fat dairy generally unadulterated and more natural compared to its low-fat counterparts, it has also been shown to lower risk of heart attacks.

How cellulose is made

Lest you protest and say “cellulose is in every plant food out there, now you’re saying it’s bad for me?,” let me explain the process by which the cellulose used as a food additive is made:

Cellulose comes in various forms, each with a specific use. Beyond powdered cellulose, two other modified forms are common in food. Microcrystalline cellulose is either listed as such on labels, as MCC, or in some cases as cellulose gel. Carboxymethyl cellulose or cellulose gum, another modified version, is listed as such on labels. Each gives foods a slightly different texture — from gelatinous to more liquid-like — because they trap varying amounts of air or water.

Powdered cellulose is made by cooking raw plant fiber — usually wood — in various chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purified. Modified versions go through extra processing, such as exposing them to acid to further break down the fiber. (source)

In other words, this is not the cellulose you’d get from eating broccoli. No, this is cellulose that’s created in a laboratory, by a convoluted process you’d find difficult (if not impossible) to replicate in your own kitchen. And did I mention it’s made from wood pulp?

And yet, this unnatural food additive is considered “natural” by our government — so natural that it’s even allowed in foods bearing the “organic” label.

But, is added cellulose “safe”?

Well, your government says it is.

What? That’s not good enough for you? You don’t trust them? How about nutritionists?

Although the notion of eating fine grains of wood pulp might make some consumers blanch, nutritionists say cellulose — which gives plants their structure — is a harmless fiber that can often cut calories in food. Insoluble dietary fibers like cellulose aren’t digestible by humans so add bulk to food without making it more fattening.

Cellulose can serve as a good source of dietary fiber for people who don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables or whole grains, Ms. Slavin says. The USDA’s most recent dietary guidelines recommend young women get 28 grams a day of fiber and young men consume 38 grams.

“Cellulose is cellulose,” regardless of if whether it comes from wood pulp or celery, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that advocates healthier, more nutritious food. He says no research points to health problems related to consuming cellulose.

The Food and Drug Administration sets limits on the amount of cellulose in certain foods like cheese spreads and jams. The USDA also limits the amount of cellulose in meat products to about 1% to 4%, depending on the type, in order to meet the agency’s standards for protein content.

(source)

Here’s my question. Who cares if it’s safe? It’s disturbingly unnatural to have wood pulp in your cheese or cotton in your salad dressing.

Yes, I said “cotton in your salad dressing.” Thank you, Kraft Foods, for making such statements actually truthful and not merely the figment of a childish, over-active imagination.

What can you do?

Well, stop buying shredded cheese, for one thing. Buy cheese by the block and shred it or slice it yourself. You’ll save money, and you won’t be eating wood pulp. It’s a win, win! Want to know how to prioritize your cheese choices? Check out this post on Healthy Cheese: What To Buy.

Secondly, you should stop buying the reduced fat versions of full fat foods. Good fat from real food is actually healthy for you. Plus, when you take the fat out of traditionally fatty foods, you’ve got to replace it with something. That usually results in ingredient labels that read like chemistry text books.

And lastly, stick to eating foods with ingredient labels you actually understand — or better yet, foods without ingredient labels at all! These are whole foods. Cook from scratch with them, and you’ll always know what’s in your food.

(photo by ShardsOfBlue)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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108 Responses to Would You Like Some Wood Pulp In Your Shredded Cheese?
  1. Laureen Tarantino via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:40 pm

    This is SOOO wrong!

    • B-what
      August 5, 2011 | 1:58 am

      Wait, what? So, it’s completely safe, has many benefits, and yet… you have an issue with this? Are you all dumb? There’s a TON of unnatural things out there. Who cares if it’s unnatural? Ever brush your teeth? BUT THAT’S MAN MADE, IT’S UNNATURAL!
      What about taken a pill of…any kind? ALSO UNNATURAL!!!!!
      We’d better eat nothing but free-range chicken dry, and use leaves to wipe our butts, and not take care of ourselves when we get sick.

      • KristenM
        August 5, 2011 | 9:37 am

        Well if this isn’t a parody of what it means to eat “natural” food, I don’t know what is! We’re talking about FOOD here, the sacred life-giving stuff we put into our bodies. Not toothbrushes.

        And, please, in future comments refrain from calling others dumb. You may see my comments policy for more details.

        You’re missing my point. Perhaps instead of “unnatural,” I should have said “non-traditional.” In my mind, the two run kind of parallel, but you’ve pointed out how far the definition of “unnatural” can be stretched. And, subsequently, you’re missing my point.

        I want to eat food that’s REAL, first and foremost — that means that it’s old and traditional, not a newly invented food that’s only made possible by industrial food science.

        For more about why this distinction is important to me (and others), try reading my ABOUT page.

        • Canadian Man
          May 10, 2013 | 3:16 pm

          A tree is just a giant vegetable. Beavers eat it, the only reason that we don’t is because our jaws aren’t strong enough.

          We extract sugar from tree to make syrup, why is cellulose any different?

          Just think of it like juicing a giant broccoli.

          • Courtney
            August 22, 2013 | 5:00 pm

            I think the point is that the cellulose isn’t just extracted, its that they have to use different chemicals to separate it.

          • Kenric Ashe
            October 29, 2013 | 12:16 am

            Canadian Man you are correct, wood pulp cellulose is very much like sugar in the sense that most people consume far too much of it. The bottom line for me is the fact that more recent studies repeatedly reveal adverse health effects from processed foods in general. When you choose whole fruits and vegetables more often than wood pulp cellulose, obviously you’re getting more nutrition in your diet. The only thing I suggest to Kristen is that we don’t need the all-caps “WOOD PULP” hyperbole when the choice is already so simple.

  2. Yasmeen Ali via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:42 pm

    Wow….and the public is so blind to all this……I am sharing this on my wall….thanks for the information.

  3. Heather Walters via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:42 pm

    suddenly I am glad I’m on a new diet hehe

  4. Marjorie Fioravante via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:44 pm

    WTH. How can we possibly keep one step ahead….

  5. April Miles Thornton via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:45 pm

    When I posted the OJ article a few days ago I had a friend refer to me as an “alarmist.” Is there something wrong with NOT wanting to eat this crap? I don’t think so!

  6. Melinda Todd via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:47 pm

    So glad you share these things because I would have NO idea otherwise!

  7. Kate Dailey Monreal via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:49 pm

    Reminds me of Roman Meal putting sawdust in their bread to bulk it up…Tasty, tasty tree parts. :P

    I started noticing crap in shredded cheese when I was on the Atkin’s diet. I was incredulous to the fact that cheese had so many grams of carbs. Then I read the ingredients on my 100% cheese. Gag me with a spoon.

  8. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:51 pm

    @April — It’s just information that’s TRUE. Nothing alarmist about it at all. It’d only be alarmist if you were exaggerating or plain lying. Neither is the case.

    • nathan
      August 5, 2011 | 12:20 am

      This is your alarmist moment: “It’s disturbingly unnatural to have wood pulp in your cheese or cotton in your salad dressing.”

      Interesting, yes. Informative, not so much. Do you separate out the cellulose from your leafy greens? I’d like to see you try that.

      • KristenM
        August 5, 2011 | 9:29 am

        “Do you separate out the cellulose from your leafy greens? I’d like to see you try that.”

        Thank you for making my point for me!

      • Liz Murban
        May 16, 2012 | 6:30 pm

        I’m allergic to some trees. I’d say this IS a problem. I have recently had an allergic response to cheese that I did not have before. This explains quote a bit since I normally grate the cheese myself but my husband bought it grated and voila– ill. Truth in ingredient listings could save many of us from unnecessary ills.

  9. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:51 pm

    @Melinda — You’re welcome. It’s one of the reasons I do it!

  10. Marjorie Fioravante via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:52 pm

    @Kate – Now I know why I never liked Roman Meal bread. My parents kept making me eat it!

  11. Sue Bateman via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 2:54 pm

    ugh!

  12. Mary Light via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:00 pm

    I really appreciate that you find these things out and post them!!

  13. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:00 pm

    @Mary Light — You’re welcome!

  14. Sue Smith via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:03 pm

    Fight this with your wallets! Breads had this same stuff in it about 25 years ago, and when enough people stopped buying the brands to which cellulose had been added, the bread companies caved to the pressure and stopped putting wood in their bread!

  15. Summer Boyd Vertrees via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:04 pm

    This makes my brain hurt. Admittedly, I trusted my organic 100% natural shredded cheese. After a trip to the fridge, I realize it does in fact have cellulose. *sigh*

  16. Brenda Forgacs via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:17 pm

    i never knew thats what cellulose was!! im glad i started buying block cheese and full-fat dairy!

  17. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:18 pm

    @Summer — Sad, I know!

  18. Becca Carroll via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:19 pm

    Barfaroni!

  19. Golden Cindy via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:22 pm

    ewwwww

  20. Becca Carroll via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:25 pm

    Oh, but it’s ok, because cellulose is cellulose, just like sugar is sugar. Your body can’t tell the difference! *insert severe eye roll here

  21. Jennie Minges via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:30 pm

    “organic” unfortunately is what “conventional” was in the 70′s…. buy local, in season, from farmers you know and trust. Thank you, Food Renegade!

  22. Pavil, the Uber Noob
    August 2, 2011 | 3:34 pm

    One approach to avoid knock-off food is to wean ourselves from the grocery store and become locavores. Dairy, meat, eggs & produce should (as much a possible) be acquired from our immediate and neighboring communities. Condiments and beverages can be fermented in our own kitchens.

    If we can do this, we can put all of the food & drug commercials on fast forward, because they won’t pertain to us.

    Ciao, Pavil

    • KristenM
      August 2, 2011 | 4:20 pm

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Jesse
      September 28, 2013 | 7:58 pm

      You got it!

  23. Tracy Black
    August 2, 2011 | 3:41 pm

    We want to know how they make fat free half and half?!

    • KristenM
      August 2, 2011 | 4:20 pm

      LOL. I’ve wondered that, too!

      • Sherri Freeman
        September 28, 2013 | 1:48 pm

        Simple…Ingredients label from Land O Lakes Fat Free Half and Half. Remove the healthy fat (cream) and add sugar and carrageenan and all sorts of dyes and preservatives. Viola!

        Ingredients: Ingredients: Skim Milk, Corn Syrup, Cream*, Contains less than 0.5% of the following: Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono and Diglycerides*, Vitamin A Palmitate, Color Added (Ingredient not in regular half & half).

  24. Heather Flannery Giese via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:45 pm

    Eeww. Enough said.

  25. Howard C. Gray via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:46 pm

    If companies would stop using deceptive terminology and used everyday layman’s language for ingredient labeling, we wouldn’t have this problem…hmmm, maybe we can change the labeling law: “Truth in Labeling.”

    • Bob
      August 6, 2011 | 7:24 am

      @Howard Gray

      “Laymans” language? I’m sorry, how else would you like me to refer to cellulose? It describes EXACTLY what’s being put in the product. That is “truth”, and is legally mandated.

      Were they to call it anything else, regulatory agencies would be all over them.

      Cellulose isn’t an uncommon word, and can be found in any dictionary. That people don’t bother to read it is frightening.

      That people don’t know what cellulose is scares me even more. It’s covered in like 3rd grade Natural Sciences. And again in every grade after that.

    • Bob
      August 10, 2011 | 8:20 pm

      @MeshGearFox

      hahahahahaha…dear god that made me cry it was so funny!

      Thank you

  26. Barefoot Mama via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 3:49 pm

    Cellulose gum is in just about everything prepackaged. Glad to finally find out what it is! Thankfully I gave up Kraft products a long time ago as well.

  27. Melissa
    August 2, 2011 | 3:51 pm

    This is a potential pitfall for folks trying to combat stomach problems by reducing fermentable carbohydrates in their diet…

    • KristenM
      August 2, 2011 | 4:20 pm

      Excellent point. Seems like they should be on the lookout for any food with “cellulose” or “cellulose gum” in the label.

  28. Pam S.
    August 2, 2011 | 3:57 pm

    Good to know. I just started buying block cheese because I recently bought a vacuum-sealer machine. I can now buy a huge block of cheese without worrying about it going bad and shred it when I need some.

  29. Frederica Huxley via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 4:20 pm

    Thanks for exposing all these dubious practices – when all is said and done, avoid all processed foods. You may need to spend more time in the kitchen, but you will be healthier, wealthier and wise!

  30. Michele Niesen via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 4:22 pm

    Ah, well if this weren’t enough, guess what else they use cellulose for? K-Y jelly. Yum! I’ve said it before and will say it again, our nations infatuation with cheap food has got to raise eyebrows. What does one think is IN a 99cent burger. I’d feel better if it WERE KY Jelly, but I think it’s something scarier. LEARN TO COOK. Love a farmer. :-)

  31. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 4:23 pm

    @Frederica — So true! What’s sad about this is that most people wouldn’t consider a bag of shredded Organic Valley cheese a “processed” food. But it is!

  32. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 4:23 pm

    @Frederica — So true! What’s sad about this is that most people wouldn’t consider a bag of shredded Organic Valley cheese a “processed” food. But it is!

  33. Frederica Huxley via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 4:27 pm

    What saddens me is that the Victorians often adulterated food; this was legislated out of the food supply in the early 20th century, and guess what, now the adulteration is legal! What is the difference from sawdust in bread and cellulose in cheese?

  34. Peggy Pigeon Judd via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 5:41 pm

    Is the sawdust dangerous? Or the cellulose (which will scrub you out) or the cotton? It isn’t FOOD, but may not be HURTING anyone.

  35. Elizabeth
    August 2, 2011 | 6:01 pm

    I started shredding my own cheese a long time ago. I had a gut feeling that the powdery coating on store bought shredded cheese wasn’t something I wanted in my body. Once I got my food processor, shredding cheese became unbelievably easy–and you really do save a lot of money shredding it yourself!

    • KristenM
      August 2, 2011 | 8:10 pm

      I hate shredding cheese by hand. With a passion. That’s why I bought a food processor attachment for my Kitchen Aide stand mixer that can shred cheese (or veggies, whatever). It takes seconds. It’s easy to clean up. I completely identify with your comment!

  36. Diana Bieniek via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 7:20 pm

    Okay, this is just gross…first meat glue, and now this. you are so right–the only way to avoid this stuff is to stick to whole foods. And it occurs to me that I won’t get splinters from my broccoli, but what about wood pulp cellulose?? And if the cotton isn’t organic, it’s been treated with tons of pesticides–I had no idea that was getting into “food”. Thank you for the info!!

  37. Alaina
    August 2, 2011 | 8:01 pm

    I LOVE this information… and the suggestion on how to solve this problem… so simple… buy block cheese. Thank you for always providing us with new ways to change what goes on in our kitchen.

  38. Augie
    August 2, 2011 | 8:02 pm

    Great article. Why not just sprinkle saw dust on your pizza!

    • KristenM
      August 2, 2011 | 8:13 pm

      I know! What a picture.

  39. Food Renegade via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 8:07 pm

    @Peggy — I doubt it’s hurting anyone except perhaps the few, extremely sensitive people who react to even trace amounts of chemically processed foods. Nevertheless, it’s disturbingly unnatural to have wood pulp in your cheese!

    • Xeyne
      August 5, 2011 | 5:05 am

      like it is completely unnatural to have tree bark in your coffee, desserts, food etc…..I mean you do know that cinnamon is tree bark right?

      • KristenM
        August 5, 2011 | 9:09 am

        Um….NO. Cinnamon is traditionally a spice we add to food. We’ve done it for thousands of years. Wood pulp? Cotton? Not so much. These are newfangled additions to our food supply, only really possible because of the marvels of industry and science. For more information about why that little distinction is important to me, read my ABOUT page.

        • Bob
          August 12, 2011 | 3:01 pm

          So the FIRST time someone put Cinnamon in their food it would have been an abomination according to you.

          Do you now see why some of us take issue with your arbitrary rules about what makes certain things OK as food?

          • KristenM
            August 12, 2011 | 3:05 pm

            Again: “Um…NO.” Please stop misconstruing my point. Since when is cinnamon “only really possible because of the marvels of industry and science”?

            • Bob
              August 13, 2011 | 6:42 pm

              I’m not misconstruing…just demonstrating that your definition is arbitrary.

              By your own definition only “traditional” food prep methods are OK.

              At some point, ALL methods of food prep were new and therefore “non traditional” (hence the cinnamon example).

              I’m just saying the ambiguity of the definitions you use isn’t helpful. Just because “it’s been done for thousands of years” doesn’t automatically make something better or safer than the next thing.

              I agree that we have a dearth of knowledge of food, farming and processing in the laity, but your guidelines appear arbitrary…which doesn’t help with credibility.

              • lin
                July 3, 2012 | 3:17 pm

                i agree wholeheartedly with BOB!

  40. Jill DeMarco via Facebook
    August 2, 2011 | 10:53 pm

    yum, I can just eat my t shirt.

  41. Skye
    August 2, 2011 | 11:52 pm

    Thanks again, Kristin – not that I buy these products, but it’s still great to know, and great to have it reaffirmed that WHOLE foods are the way to go! Thanks so much for your time and research and passion for real food and health. : )

  42. Amanda
    August 3, 2011 | 7:36 am

    I just noticed last night that Green Pastures uses Cellulose in their cod liver oil :(

  43. Kai
    August 3, 2011 | 9:24 am

    Unfortunately, where I live, it is cheaper to buy shredded cheese. We NEVER used to buy it until we moved to Alabama. I have to tell this to my husband now though. EW!

  44. Mrs. Scrimp
    August 3, 2011 | 9:34 am

    I’d be curious to find out how the cellulose is extracted from the wood, i.e. what chemicals they soak it in to get it out.

    Honestly? I’m just surprised they bother to pull it from wood. It’s sort of pathetically refreshing to hear of a disgusting food additive that isn’t soy or corn based.

    • lin
      July 3, 2012 | 3:18 pm

      why is it disgusting? because it is tree based?

  45. Meese
    August 3, 2011 | 11:12 am

    “Here’s my question. Who cares if it’s safe? It’s disturbingly unnatural to have wood pulp in your cheese or cotton in your salad dressing.”

    Natural, like eating dairy, using a computer, driving a car. All natural things.

  46. Trish
    August 4, 2011 | 2:04 pm

    My husband thinks I’m crazy because I’ve been slowly whittling away at the processed food we purchase. I looked at what my family ate a lot of, like peanut butter, milk, and cheese, and they went first. Thanks so much for putting this information out there – some people won’t believe anything unless they see it in writing.

  47. Jen Flickinger
    August 4, 2011 | 2:39 pm

    We stopped buying shredded cheese years ago to save money, and because the texture of pre shredded cheese always seemed strange to me. Thanks for the info!

  48. James
    August 4, 2011 | 8:13 pm

    Disturbingly unnatural? I’m all for avoiding HFCS, preservatives and MSG, but I don’t see how this is gross or disturbing in comparison to anything else that we eat. A cellulose additive sounds no worse than something like a multivitamin or Metamucil.

    We eat foods that are made with bacteria and yeast poop. We eat fungi, undeveloped bird embryos and milk of other mammals. Our dietary requirements include metals!

    • Andy
      August 5, 2011 | 1:31 am

      I agree completely.

      Sheesh people, I hope you realize cellulose from wood pulp is probably the cleanest thing you have in your diet. It’s a whole lot more natural than your twinkies, chicken nuggets, and just about everything else.

      • KristenM
        August 5, 2011 | 9:12 am

        I seriously doubt any of the regular readers of this site, or the people who are alarmed by the fact that there is wood pulp in their cheese, are the kinds of people who eat twinkies or chicken nuggets. More likely, they’re the kinds of people who avoid processed foods altogether.

    • KristenM
      August 5, 2011 | 9:28 am

      Perhaps I’m rare, but the thought of eating bacteria and yeast poop actually thrills me — all those good probiotics! I don’t view that as unnatural food at all, since we’ve been eating it for thousands upon thousands of years. (Where do we think traditionally fermented foods like sauerkraut, cheese, and sourdough bread come from, anyway?)

      Perhaps instead of “unnatural,” I should have said “non-traditional.” In my mind, the two run kind of parallel, but other commenters have pointed out how far the definition of “unnatural” can be stretched. And, subsequently, they’re missing my point.

      I want to eat food that’s REAL, first and foremost — that means that it’s old and traditional, not a newly invented food that’s only made possible by industrial food science. A buttermilk and mayonnaise blend you whip together in 30 seconds and toss a few fresh herbs into? Real food. Deriving cellulose from cotton and adding it to your “ranch” salad dressing so that it’s creamier? Not so real.

      For more about why this distinction is important to me (and others), try reading my ABOUT page.

      • James
        August 6, 2011 | 11:55 am

        I’ve read your About page and your point is taken, Kristen. We just draw the line at different places.

        I don’t eat fast food and I avoid prepackaged food with hundreds of ingredients that I can’t recognize, but I agree with the quote that “cellulose is cellulose” just as a tomato is just a tomato to me — with or without an organic label.

        Also, I will happily take my milk pasteurized, thank-you-very-much. :)

        • MikeK
          April 18, 2013 | 6:00 pm

          There is something ironic here. Since this post it has come about that unpasteurized milk certainly has extreme health benefits. So your smug coup de grace moment is absolutely ruined :D.

          In the end, I indeed agree with your main point hah! The process by which they’re getting their cellulose is a bit unnerving, but that’s as far as it goes, bring me the pre-grated prepackaged insanely convenient cheese, and while they all slave away in the hot kitchen I will continue writing inane posts on the internet! Wait …

  49. Luc
    August 5, 2011 | 3:19 am

    Question: Can we start a fire with shredded cheese?

  50. Josh O
    August 5, 2011 | 9:26 am

    Oh, but eating wood extract in wine and whiskey is OK… or eating grass-fed beef that’s been smoked with hickory is OK… Just because an ingredient goes through some steps of “processing” does not immediately make it “BAD”. Almost everything you eat has some level of processing, often in ways that you can not easily replicate in your own kitchen. This manic obsession with “processed” or “natural” foods are has led to stupidity like “organic salt”.

    • KristenM
      August 5, 2011 | 9:45 am

      I’m all in favor of processed foods — so long as it’s the kind of processing that’s been traditionally done by home cooks for many hundreds, if not thousands of years. I can think of a host of examples — like turning cream into butter, milk into cheese, fermenting cabbage with salt and wild lacto-bacillus cultures to create sauerkraut, or boiling sap to create syrups.

      You’re right. Processing is not inherently bad.

      What *is* bad is the way that these traditionally processed foods have been altered by industrial processing methods so that they’re stripped of their nutritional value, life-giving enzymes, and probiotic benefit. Sauerkraut is an excellent example of a traditional food gone awry in the wake of industrial processing. Now instead of being a living, probiotic-rich food full of good bacteria, sauerkraut is a dead, vinegar-swamped food that tastes little like the real thing.

      • MATT
        August 6, 2011 | 7:45 am

        So, once we have been adding wood pulp to cheese at home for 200 years it should be ok then?

        You wouldn’t believe what they use to keep bread dough from sticking to counters.. they grind up this genetically differentiated grass into tiny bits and then just sprinkle it on the outside! MONSTERS!

        (Its called “flour” and we should ban it! what is that some kind of chemical!?!)

      • lin
        July 3, 2012 | 3:20 pm

        why is something better if it’s been done for thousands of years? are there NO modern ways of processing that you find acceptable?

        • Sherri Freeman
          September 28, 2013 | 2:19 pm

          My thought would be..and I don’t presume to answer for Kristin, is that if something has been prepared and consumed a certain way for hundreds or thousands of years, it has simply stood “the test of time” for safety. I guess we will know soon enough if our current food processing techniques will cause chronic illness and/or premature death. Oh, wait…

  51. Cashcleaner
    August 5, 2011 | 7:51 pm

    So let me get this straight. This wood cellulose additive isn’t harmful and in fact provides some fibre to our diet, but it’s bad because…ummmm…why again?

    Sorry, but I’m desperately trying to figure out how I should really care about this.

  52. cellulose renegade
    August 6, 2011 | 2:32 pm

    I care if it is safe, if instead of cellulose they were adding an unsafe chemical such as melamine, I’d think you would care too. In 2008 13 infants died because of melamine added to infant formula. Safety first.

    • KristenM
      August 6, 2011 | 2:37 pm

      A more clear way to state what I was trying to communicate is: “So what if it’s safe? Even if it is safe, it’s disturbingly unnatural…”

      • Bob
        August 8, 2011 | 7:11 pm

        But, as noted above, it’s completely natural.

        Problem is this particular example is a tempest in a teapot.

        Is this something I should be aware of? Sure!

        Is it dangerous or even marginally unhealthy? Not at all.

        Do I personally buy shredded cheese? Never. But I’ve been able to read a label and look up ingredients since I was like 12…in the pre-internet era where a dictionary and encyclopedia were required.

      • Daisy
        March 26, 2012 | 5:23 am

        So that means bread, flour, and cake are all unnatural. Yet it’s completely okay to eat them. and im not gonna cut them out from my diet just cos they’re “unnatural”.

        • Sherri Freeman
          September 28, 2013 | 2:26 pm

          How so? Unless Food Renegade amended this article since the original post, she explains that the process of creating cellulose powder and gums involves chemicals and solvents. It is not the same thing as merely grinding flour from wheat or grain.

          I can in theory, grow grain in my back yard and grind it in my home mill (or pound it between rocks even) and make flour. I’m not sure I’d have the same success trying to extract cellulose powder from my firewood.

          In the scheme of things, cellulose is not on my list of the most noxious food additives I have come across. On the other hand, if the point of eating is to nourish my body, then wood pulp comes up a little short.

  53. MeshGearFox
    August 8, 2011 | 9:59 pm

    This is terrifying. Who knows what OTHER food might have cellulose in it?

    I’m sticking to raw fruits and veggies from here on out.

    • Janice Cho Chu
      August 15, 2011 | 2:06 pm

      Uh, plants are made of cellolose. “Raw fruits and veggies” come from plants. Good luck finding something to eat.

      • Bob
        August 15, 2011 | 8:56 pm

        I think MeshGearFox was being sarcastic! ;-)

  54. chuck
    August 13, 2011 | 12:41 pm

    Wood does a body good. A buddy of mine is a chemist at a plant next to the paper mill that uses by products of paper manufacturing to make cholesterol lowering food additives and drugs. Not sure what its is but any thing to lower my cholesterol has got to be bad for you.

  55. C
    August 16, 2011 | 9:12 am

    Good article… but, I laughed at the ridiculousness of you saying you can’t finish a apple in a single sitting? A 3 year old can eat a whole apple… so that makes me think you are either bulimic, have food ADD, or you have the body size of an infant.

    • lin
      July 3, 2012 | 3:23 pm

      i agree. i am 25 years old and i can eat an apple in one sitting.

  56. Walter Jeffries
    August 17, 2011 | 6:12 pm

    The fact that it comes from wood doesn’t bother me, much. It is the intense chemical processing. This makes it like soy, HFCS and friends. Things we really shouldn’t be putting in our bodies.

  57. Sheila
    November 29, 2012 | 1:05 am

    Wood pulp… Man, I’m still trying to figure out how to stop eating MSG since I read that awful entry. I hate the food industry. :(

  58. Stephanie
    November 29, 2012 | 10:04 pm

    They will feed us anything & tell us it is safe to eat just to make a profit!

  59. Christina
    January 22, 2013 | 6:04 pm

    Who cares if the cellolouse in cheese is taken from the source where it is most abundant — trees? Just because the ingredient is processed does not automatically mean it is unhealthy, and just because something doesn’t occur in nature doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. I definitely see the benefit of eating ‘real food’ for almost everything, but making it sound like the cellolouse in cheese is bad for when every source you cite says otherwise seems rather alarmist to me.

  60. KatieB
    February 20, 2013 | 12:25 pm

    At least it’s better than soy. Ever notice how much soy is in everything? I mean everything. Soy is bad for you in large quantities–Europe has already begun restricting soy in their foods. And a lot of what we eat is actually the stem of trees anyway so it’s not so bad. Aspirin comes from willow bark, so does cinnamon. We eat a lot of roots and leaves too–carrots, spinach, turnips, etc. Tree or wood does not necessarily = bad.

  61. KatieB
    February 20, 2013 | 12:26 pm

    Cinnamon does not come from willow bark, just bark. It looked unclear the way I wrote it.

  62. Hazel Guerrero
    March 26, 2013 | 10:33 am

    Wow! You really do learn something new everyday! I have no problem eating wood pulp as it’s all natual, but when I read further and found out that it’s a chemical process to get to this stuff I gotta say nay on any wood pulp. Thanks btw!

  63. Katie
    August 8, 2013 | 10:14 am

    What is it about it that makes it BAD? I have never seen anything specific on this. No symptoms it can cause, or ailments. I have only seen scare tactics such as “OMG WOOD IS IN YOUR FOOD!” Don’t get me wrong, I am against food additives and I am on a quest to eat only real foods, but I just really wanted to know what specifically made this so bad and what it can do to you. Thanks!!

  64. Gale
    September 28, 2013 | 1:32 pm

    The chemicals they used to extract it concerns me, but not so much the wood chips, actually. We have recently acquired a hamster, and one of it’s needs, listed right there in the Hampster care book, is wood to chew on. Tons of animals eat wood. We don’t because…well, splinters. But I know there must be nutrition in it or other animals woudln’t eat it. If we’ve found a safe way to tap that, not sure that’s bad.

    • Tom
      September 28, 2013 | 6:55 pm

      Hamsters eating wood doesn’t mean humans eat wood. Koalas eat gum leaf/eucalyptus, try chewing on one of those leaves and you’ll quickly realize that different species can eat different things. Rabbits will die from red cabbage. No wood chips for me, thank you very much.

  65. Paper Engineer
    February 10, 2014 | 11:54 am

    This IS an alarmists view. We might as well ban dihydrogen oxide while we’re at it. You would probably starve to death if you completely avoided cellulose. As others have said, it is in pretty much all fruits and vegetables you eat. Not only that, but the chemicals removed from the wood pulp are still present in those fruits and vegetables. And, just for clarity, EVERYTHING is “chemicals”, even the dihydrogen oxide you so despartely need to consume regularly.

    I am an engineer that works in a pulp mill where we process wood chips into fiber for making paper. Let it be known that I would have NO problem ingesting wood pulp, let alone purified cellulose that is used in food. All that is left when wood fiber is processed for food use is cellulose. Cellulose is a NATURAL polymer of sugar. We as humans lack the ability to break down cellulose, unlike say, a termite or cow or horse or bacteria, so we derive no nutrition from it. It passes right through our digestive tract, but we do derive some benefit as fiber. The chemical processing of the wood does not appreciably change the chemical structure of the cellulose making it suddenly toxic or anything. The chemicals, which are actually very common, nothing exotic, cook away the lignin and some of the cellulose components. They are then washed out and recovered for recycling back in the process. The cooking is all done under high temperature and pressure. It is quite possible to make wood pulp in your kitchen, just not as fast.

    I’m not saying you should go eat a paper grocery bag, although it would not hurt you, but cellulose is certainly one of the safest food additives there is.

    I will say though that breathing wood dust is not healthy. That has been shown to cause cancer in people who inhale a lot of it. It is a little like asbestos in that regard. Some people are also allergic to wood dust. However, the allergy is not to the cellulose, it is to the other NATURAL CHEMICALS present in the wood. If you were allergic to cellulose, you would probably quickly die. So if you feel you are allergic to the added cellulose, I suggest you are barking up the wrong tree, pun intended, and you need to find another culprit. Maybe you are allergic to casein, OMG, another chemical!

  66. Glenda Berman
    February 18, 2014 | 4:30 pm

    Lot’s of products that say high fiber are actually products with cellulose. I was eating high fiber English Muffins and found that I was having trouble with my stomach and after removing them from my diet I realized that It was the cellulose that was causing the problems. If you want fiber just take bran or some other form but be warned cellulose can cause problems.

  67. Richard
    March 18, 2014 | 11:48 am

    I found this blog because I have had stomach problems after eating Kraft shredded cheese. This was the only change to my diet each of the last three times I have had stomach issues. I do have celiac’s and have been trying to find if (processed) cellulose can cause this issue. I am currently on Mark Sisson’s Paleo blueprint diet. It has changed things for me dramatically. On the other hand, I have found that I have become more susceptible to some ingredients when I get things that I have cut from my diet for the past 2 years. I believe there may be a link to the way this cellulose is processed. Any ideas?

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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