Recently, I warned you about “organic carpetbaggers.” These unscrupulous manufacturers make junk food with organic ingredients.
Then, they have the gall to charge you more for something you think is better for you. But organic doesn’t always = healthy.
Plus, a few carpetbaggers have found a new way to boost their profits. They put a cost-cutting additive in their products. The FDA lets them call this additive “organic,” but the stuff is far from natural.
I’ll explain how food manufacturers get away with calling this cheap additive “organic” in a moment, but first consider this…
Paying more than ever at the grocery store
We’ve seen a dramatic rise in oil prices in 2011. When this happens, you can always expect to pay more for basic commodities as well.
In fact, according to some experts, the price of basic food commodities such as sugar, flour, and cocoa will rise 500 to 1,000 percent over the next two years.
This grim reality has sent food manufacturers around the world scrambling to find new ways to keep down the price of Cheese Nips.
It sounds like something women gripe about during bathing suit season. But it’s actually a kind of fiber made from wood pulp. Manufacturers use it to create paper products, rayon, cat litter, laundry detergent, explosives, and asphalt.
And, oh yes, you might even find it in your yogurt…even your organic yogurt.
Food industry voodoo
To food manufacturers, cellulose is the perfect cheap filler. It’s tasteless, odorless, and calorie-free.
It also does a marvelous job of keeping your shredded cheese from clumping. In fact, have you ever looked closely at your bag of shredded cheddar cheese? Hold a few shreds in your hand and you’ll probably notice a fine white coating on the cheese. This is cellulose. According to the Sargento web site, they use cellulose because it makes “cheese easier to use.”
Yes, cheese clumping is an enormous dilemma! In fact, have you ever tried to shred real cheddar cheese yourself at home? It clumps together in awful gobs, making it nearly impossible to sprinkle on my tacos! (Hope you can hear the heavy sarcasm there in my voice.)
But that’s not all…
Wood fiber is so versatile!
Cellulose helps to extend a processed food’s shelf life. So the crumb cake can sit on the shelf longer without going rancid.
As an added bonus, cellulose also contains fiber! Sure…it’s usually made from wood fiber. But who cares? Fiber is fiber, right?
That’s what Joanne Slavin thinks, anyway.
A reporter from the Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Joanne Slavin, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, about cellulose.
In the interview, Slavin said that adding cellulose to foods is a great idea. She said it bulks up food without adding fat. Plus, she said it’s a good source of fiber for men and women who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. (Come on, Joanne. Let’s not stoop to such poor practices. Ever thinking of encouraging these men and women to eat more fruits and vegetables?)
With this kind of mainstream acceptance, is it any wonder that food manufacturers add cellulose, instead of real whole grains, to their products? They get to call their product “high in fiber.” But it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than barley or whole wheat.
Sounds like a wonder ingredient to me. (Again, notice the sarcasm.)
Plus, best of all…
Cellulose mimics fat. It’s an emulsifier and stabilizer. Food makers can inject a bit of it into their pudding to make it taste rich and creamy, but it doesn’t contain the extra fat. As a result, consumers can eat more of it!
Here’s what really gets me, though…
FDA misses the boat
The FDA allows food manufacturers to add powdered cellulose to their products and still call them “organic.” I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal, right? Cellulose is natural enough. It’s made from wood.
Yes, but they take the wood pulp and treat it with various chemicals to strip away the cellulose. (Other forms of cellulose go through much more processing.) I hardly consider that an organic process.
Here’s the bottom line…
In the scheme of things, cellulose is actually not that bad. The FDA says it’s safe for human consumption. In fact, you find cellulose naturally in many fruits and vegetables, such as celery and broccoli.
But do I think you should buy an organic pancakes filled made with cellulose?
Well, for me, it’s about the extra processing. The goal is to eat whole foods that haven’t been processed in any way! If you want pancakes, make them with whole-wheat flour, milk, and eggs. Don’t buy boxed pancake mix with powdered cellulose. When a product contains cellulose, it tends to include a bunch of other artificial ingredients as well.
Plus, adding cellulose is a lazy man’s way of getting more fiber, less fat, and a longer shelf life. In general, I think you should try to avoid foods that contain it.
Read labels carefully…even the organic ones! Avoid anything that says it contains powdered cellulose.
Be extra mindful of non-organic products as well. These may contain forms of cellulose treated heavily with chemicals. Watch out for products that contain microcrystalline cellulose, MCC, cellulose gum, or carboxymethyl cellulose. These forms of cellulose alter the texture of foods. Generally, you only find them in highly-processed foods.
On the other hand, go ahead and enjoy foods that naturally contain cellulose, such as cruciferous vegetables like celery, broccoli, and cabbage.
Dr. Allan Spreen
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