Is Cellulose Gum Harmful?

Reading a food ingredient list may make you think twice before buying certain items, especially with so many unfamiliar words and ingredients. While you may worry about how some food additives affect your health, there's no need to worry about cellulose gum.

You might find cellulose gum in your jar of jelly. (Image: John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

What Is Cellulose Gum?

Cellulose is a tough carbohydrate that comes from the cell wall of plants. Cellulose gum, which may also appear on the label as carboxymethylcellulose, is made by reacting the cellulose, which comes from wood pulp or cotton lint, with an acid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found no evidence that cellulose gum is dangerous or hazardous and considers the additive generally safe.

Uses and Sources

Cellulose gum has a number of different uses and is found in a variety of different types of foods. It's used to stabilize the foam in your mug of beer and helps prevent crystallization of sugar in icing. Cellulose gum also binds well with water and is used in low-calorie food products such as fat-free ice cream and low-fat cookies to add bulk and texture. The food additive also helps suspend fruit in products such as jelly and fruit pie fillings.

In the Body

Cellulose gum is indigestible. When you eat foods that contain the carbohydrate, it goes through your digestive system without being absorbed or even degraded. Consuming large amounts may add bulk to your stool and have a bit of a laxative effect, explains the FDA. It may also, however, decrease the nutritive value in the food you eat when you consume it in large amounts.

Not a Fiber

Food manufacturers count cellulose gum as a dietary fiber on the food label, since it's a carbohydrate that the body can't digest. But cellulose gum isn't as healthy a source of dietary fiber as natural sources, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Natural sources of fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, contain other nutrients that promote good health. Foods that contain cellulose gum tend to be highly processed.

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