Cellulose Gum or CMC: Is this food additive harmful or helpful?

Cellulose Gum or CMC: Is this food additive harmful or helpful?

Most of the food we buy in the supermarket has some form of additive, here’s what you need to know about one of the most common kinds...

More and more families are raising concern in Vietnam, where there are food production companies that use the thickening and stabilising agent known as CMC. This agent is commonly used in Vietnam shrimp production.

As of this writing, Vietnamese officials have been pursuing leads on which companies are injecting CMC into their product, deeming it unsafe and illegal.

They found that more than 1,100 of the 10,000 businesses inspected were using the additive in food production.

Vietnam shrimp production: The risks of CMC injection

Using chemical pumps, the said companies inject shrimp with the gel-like CMC to increase the shrimp’s weight, and make the product look “fresher.” The perceived improvement in quality, as well as the increased weight, causes prices to go up.

Aside from CMC, some food companies use glucose or gelatin to “fatten up” their product.

However, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no concrete basis to declare CMC unsafe.

CMC or Sodium carboxymethylcellulose might not sound familiar, or even appetising, but did you know it is a key additive in some types of food?

This food additive is a favoured thickening agent as it minimises fat content. CMC can suppress appetite by making you feel full. This is why some weight loss manufacturers tout it as a dietary fiber even if it is not absorbable or digestible.

Naturally, it also has its risks.

CMC is not 100% safe because it is a synthetic additive, not a natural whole food ingredient. There have been reports of allergic reactions to CMC, particularly in medications and cosmetics.

This might sound frightening, but there are actually has two kinds of CMC: industrial grade and food-grade.

Both kinds of cellulose gum have their benefits. Food-grade cellulose gum, in particular, is a natural by-product of the cell walls of plants, like wood pulp and cottonseeds.

As an industrial grade substance, it is used to produce certain types of paper, toothpaste, medicine, household cleaning agents, and dyed materials.

vietnam shrimp

Screenshot from Youtube

Other than Vietnam shrimp, what other foods contain CMC?

Manufacturers add cellulose gum to some types of fat-free ice cream. The substance also adds texture to low-fat cookies. Some companies also make use of it as a stabiliser for beer foam and icing sugar.

As an additive, it is used to:

  • suspend fruit in certain types of gelatin or jelly and fruit pie fillings,
  • process cream cheese, cottage cheese, salad dressings, and candy, and
  • serve as a dietary fibre to weight loss supplements.

It should be noted that nothing beats the natural fiber we get from fruits and vegetables. Since cellulose gum is “indigestible,” it can bulk up your stool or act as a laxative.

How to protect your family

As of 2008, food production companies have been using the term “cellulose gum” instead of carboxymethylcellulose in various product labels to better inform the buying public.

Make sure to check all labels before purchase. 

Keep in mind that, though any food additive has its risks, the important thing is that you make up for eating processed foods by boosting your diet with natural, healthy food.

At the end of the day, processed foods aren’t all bad, but anything in excess is always problematic.

We hope this has helped to ease your anxiety about cellulose gum so that you can make better decisions about your family’s nutrition.

sources: New England Journal of Medicine, Vietnam news, Healthline, Livestrong

READ THIS ALSO: Are food additives harmful for children?

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Written by

Bianchi Mendoza

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