Cellulose: it’s what’s for dinner

This popular additive can help battle obesity by adding fiber to foods.

Ian Taylor

Ramen noodles, cookies, shredded cheese and ice cream: all a part of a college studentâÄôs balanced diet.

Most students donâÄôt realize that a component of some of these foods is a miniscule amount of wood.

Small fragments of wood pulp are found in powdered cellulose, an ingredient whose popularity is on the rise, said Joanne Slavin, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota.

Cellulose as a food additive is new. Slavin said it has been used in foods for at least 45 to 50 years, but recently has increased in popularity.

Slavin also served on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which helps develop nutrition messages and consumer materials.

Slavin said the recent growth in cellulose use started in the past decade, and was spurred by a large policy influence. The federal government pushed companies to put more fiber in food in order to fight a rise in obesity.

Slavin said cellulose can help battle obesity because it adds fiber to foods, thereby decreasing calorie intake.

âÄúRather than breaking down, when fiber is added to starchy foods like bread, pasta or ramen, its goes straight through you and is not absorbed as calorie intake,âÄù she said.

University students had varying reactions to hearing that some foods contain wood fibers.

Alvin Sung, a sophomore at the University, said he only eats ramen if he is starving. He said he felt âÄúkind of disgustedâÄù when he heard the news.

University junior Ben Campbell said he, âÄúlived on [ramen] for four months,âÄù and wondered about the labels on the food.

âÄúIt makes me question where they write that on the label,âÄù he said.

Slavin said that more companies are labeling their goods with more familiar terms so that customers are not put off by a strange term on a label.

As to whether fiber will continue to be a popular ingredient in the future, Slavin said some fibers come in and out of style. Because of the current movement against obesity, she said, âÄúI think it will stick around for a while.âÄù