Yes, it is exactly what you’re thinking. You may in fact be eating wood on a daily basis and have no idea you’re doing it. It turns out that a sawdust like material commonly known as cellulose is used as a fiber-boosting filler in many common foods.
This wood cellulose, also found on labels written as microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), cellulose gel, cellulose gum and carboxymethyl cellulose, is a type of processed powder or pulp made from virgin wood. Cellulose is non toxic and poses no proven health risk, which is one positive since this is not always the case with these types of fillers. However, that doesn’t make it any less unsettling to know that we’re paying to eat wood.
Since these virgin wood pulps are non-toxic, the FDA says they’re ok for use in food, and has only imposed one quantity limit for their use; meat products cannot contain more than 3.5% cellulose. There are no cellulose usage limits for any other food! When you consider that the cost of food ingredients is rising, food manufacturers can save up to 30% in production costs by using cellulose over other ingredients, there are no usage limits on non meat products, and that cellulose often adds to a product’s shelf life, it makes you wonder how much wood will make its way into our diets over the next few years. On top of this, minimal processing of the virgin wood pulp into cellulose allows the powder to be classified as organic and can be used in USDA organic packaged foods or foods labeled with "containing organic ingredients."
Cellulose is found anywhere from junk food outlets, to supermarket shelf foods, to at least one known organic food item. The food industry has embraced cellulose fiber not just for its low price tag, but because they can promote their cellulose added foods as "lower fat" and "high fiber"; claims that are technically not incorrect. The sad thing is that using cellulose to replace some of certain ingredients like bleached white flour and trans-fatty processed oils could actually be an improvement to the typical North American diet.
Some of you may be thinking, everyone needs fiber and cellulose is non-toxic, so what’s the problem? The problem is that North America has become far too passive with regards to what they put in their bodies. Yes, we all need fiber, but we can get fiber from real food such as whole grains, dry legumes, and most fresh plant foods. Why is it ok for someone to feed you wood? Toxic or not, cellulose is not food! Our enzymes can’t even break it down.
Right now we know several popular companies using cellulose in their products. Some of these include: Organic Valley, Kraft, General Mills, and Kellogg's. No doubt you have some of their products in your kitchen right now. We encourage you to take a second look at your food’s labels; you might be surprised by what you see.