Before we get into the benefits and risks of cellulose gum — what exactly is cellulose gum?
Cellulose gum, also known as carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), is essentially a thickening agent used in all kinds of food products.
Many low fat products and those marketed as diet products contain food additives like cellulose gum to give the food a thicker and creamier consistency, making it more appealing to buyers.
Cellulose gum may also help extend the shelf-life of certain foods and fruits (1).
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 (2).
For these reasons, manufacturers use cellulose gum frequently in all kinds of foods.
Cellulose gum comes from the cell walls of plants, such as wood pulp and cottonseeds. It is used to make foods thick and creamy, without adding fat.
If you’re trying to reduce your fat intake or are on a low fat diet, choosing foods made with an additive like cellulose gum may help to make you feel less deprived (
Cellulose gum may also help suppress (lower) your appetite (
The fiber in cellulose gum works as a filler in foods, giving it the potential to keep you feeling full. This is another reason it is often found in diet foods.
One drawback is that you may experience loose bowel movements if you eat too many foods high in cellulose gum, due to its high fiber content. Some people even use it as a laxative for weight loss (
Keep in mind, though, that you should always check in with a healthcare professional before using cellulose gum for this purpose. They can help you come up with the best plan for you.
Cellulose gum can be used in many ways. It’s not only in a variety of food products, but also in toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, and even household products, due to its stabilizing and thickening properties.
Cellulose gum is generally deemed a safe and acceptable food additive (6).
However, there’s still potential for unknown risks because it isn’t a traditional whole food. Plus, many studies of cellulose gum have involved animals rather than humans.
Also, since some packages of food products describe cellulose gum as a “dietary fiber,” 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 (2).
To avoid any confusion when it comes to getting enough fiber, you should read nutrition labels and ingredient lists carefully.
As for risks associated with cellulose gum, research has shown that some individuals may be at a higher risk of developing an allergic reaction or sensitivity to the additive that could lead to anaphylactic shock, but this is extremely rare (
Studies have also found that long-term consumption of cellulose gum, or CMC, can cause inflammation in rodents (8).
As for studies involving humans, a 2021 study found that long-term consumption of cellulose gum can alter levels of beneficial bacteria and nutrients in the gut. This supports previous animal study findings that suggest prolonged consumption of cellulose gum may promote chronic inflammatory conditions, including colitis, metabolic syndrome, and colon cancer (8).
While this data should certainly be taken under consideration, it’s important to note that participants in the experimental group were consuming 15 grams of cellulose gum per day, which is more than the average individual would typically consume on a daily basis.
Further research is required to understand more about the impact that cellulose gum can have on humans.
If you have gut health concerns or aren’t sure about whether you should consume cellulose gum, talk with your healthcare professional or a dietitian before consuming products containing cellulose gum.
Cellulose gum is generally considered to be a fairly safe food additive, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (9).
It doesn’t have any nutritional value or health benefits, but it can be a very useful addition 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!