What's on the Menu? Wood!

By: Dylan Rodgers

Did you know wood is in virtually everything we eat?  I know what you're thinking:  "But I didn't see it listed in the ingredients."  Well you're right on that one.  The proper name for this pine-fresh ingredient is "cellulose", which is essentially plant-cell walls.

Cellulose is in bread, pastries, shredded cheese, ice cream, jelly, meats, and virtually any other processed food on the market not including it many hundreds of uses outside food products.  The amazing part is that the use of cellulose is entirely up to the company, because the USDA allows any amount of it to be used in foods except for meat.

Cellulose comes in many different forms such as cellulose gum, powder, etc.  It is what makes low-fat ice cream creamy, it keeps shredded cheese from clumping together, and it puts the backbone in breads to keep them from falling apart.  It is also considered organic and can be used in foods carrying that label.  Cellulose is quite an amazing material for production, but it seems like a purely aesthetic ingredient.  What does it do in the way of nutrition?

Fiber may be the most lacking ingredient to most American diets; but it is just so boring.  Bran literally is similar to the cardboard it comes in.  A healthy diet needs fiber.  It helps fight heart disease, possibly colon cancer, and can help people lose weight.  Cellulose is pure fiber.  So in order to correct the American diet, the USDA simply turns a blind eye to companies by allowing them to pour as much cellulose as they can get away with in the mix.

The problem is that fiber cannot be broken down by any invertebrates except cows (because of symbiotic bacteria in their digestive tract).  And because cellulose is increasingly cheaper than wheat and cream, companies are pumping more and more of it into their products.  So the more cellulose does mean a higher fiber content, but it also means less usable nutrients.

Granted, with the higher fiber content, our diets may be better off.  But when is it too much?  America could stand to lose a few pounds, but the reason dietary fiber helps 'cause' weight-loss is because the body passes it right through.  In fact, some research shows that a diet too rich in fiber has the potential to hinder the absorption of nutrients while the massive amount of fiber is in the digestive system.

So where do we draw the line?  If the USDA doesn't regulate the amount of cellulose used in food, companies focused on the dollar might continue to put more and more of it in.  One sign of this is that cellulose sales have near doubled.  But because we cannot process tree-matter, we would have to eat more food to get the same amount of nutrients we were before.  So as the companies save a buck, the people lose one or two.  And if too much fiber hinders nutrient consumption, at some point we might as well be eating dirt.

Photo: Shaylor 

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