Before we get into the benefits and risks of cellulose gum… what exactly is cellulose gum?
Cellulose gum is essentially a thickening agent used in all kinds of food products. Many diet and low-fat products will use food additives like cellulose gum to give the food a thicker and creamier consistency, making it that much more appealing to consumers.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), this type of additive can improve texture, stabilize foam, keep sugar from crystallizing, bind water, and more. For these reasons, cellulose gum is used frequently in all kinds of foods.
What Are the Benefits of Cellulose Gum?
Cellulose gum, which comes from the cell walls of plants such as wood pulp and cottonseeds, is used to make foods thick and creamy, without all the fat. If you’re trying to reduce your fat intake or you’re on a low-fat diet, choosing foods made with an additive like cellulose gum can help to make you feel less deprived.
It may help to supress the appetite. Because it works as a filler in foods, it has the potential to keep you feeling full. This is another reason cellulose gum is often found in diet foods! But you may experience loose bowel movements if you eat too many foods high in cellulose gum. Some people even use it as a laxative for weight loss.
Cellulose gum is versatile. It’s not only in a variety of food products, but also in toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, and even household products. It’s a highly useful additive that acts as a stabilizing and thickening agent.
What Are the Risks of Cellulose Gum?
It is an additive, not a whole food ingredient. Although cellulose gum is generally deemed a safe and acceptable food additive, there’s still the potential that there are as yet unknown risks because it isn’t a traditional whole food.
Because cellulose gum (also known as carboxymethylcellulose, or CMC) is sometimes called a “dietary fiber” on the package of food products, you might think you’re getting more fiber in your diet than you really are. CSPI cautions that cellulose gum isn’t as healthy as the fiber you’ll find in natural foods. You should read nutrition labels and ingredient lists carefully.
Some people may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to cellulose gum, although this is extremely rare. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reports in a study that one woman had a serious allergic reaction related to the ingestion of cellulose gum in a medication, although the study does note that this is an uncommon complication.
The NEJM also observes that the substance “is widely used as a suspending agent in pharmaceutical preparations, certain food products, and cosmetics. Therefore, previous exposure may have led to sensitization in our patient, although carboxymethylcellulose sodium is generally considered not to be absorbed.” This last point is an important one: Because cellulose gum isn’t absorbed or digested, risks such as allergic reaction are very low.
Should You Avoid Cellulose Gum?
As you can see from the benefits and risks outlined above, cellulose gum is generally considered to be a fairly safe food additive. It doesn’t have any nutritional value or health benefits, but it can be a very useful additive to all kinds of products. Most people don’t need to worry about avoiding cellulose gum or limiting their intake.
However, knowledge is power. The more you read labels on food products — especially the nutrition facts table and ingredient list — the better equipped you’ll be to identify just how many food additives you’re consuming. From there, you can make an informed decision about any food changes you want to make to have healthier habits.
Ultimately, remember that whole foods are always ideal!
Sagan Morrow is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a professional lifestyle blogger at SaganMorrow.com. She has a background as a certified holistic nutritionist.