NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Are you getting what you pay for on your plate?
"As commodity prices continue to rally and the cost of imported materials impacts earnings, we expect to see increasing use of surrogate products within food items. Cellulose is certainly in higher demand and we expect this to continue," Michael A. Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at YCMNet Advisors, told TheStreet. Manufacturers use cellulose in food as an extender, providing structure and reducing breakage, said Dan Inman, director of research and development at J. Rettenmaier USA, a company that supplies "organic" cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products. Cellulose adds fiber to the food, which is good for people who do not get the recommended daily intake of fiber in their diets, Inman said. It also extends the shelf life of processed foods. Plus, cellulose's water-absorbing properties can mimic fat, he said, allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake. Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper, he added, because "the fiber and water combination is less expensive than most other ingredients in the
Most surprising, said Inman, is that he's been able to remove as much as 50% of the fat from some cookies, biscuits, cakes and brownies by replacing it with powdered cellulose -- but still end up with a very similar product in terms of taste and appearance. "We're only limited by our own imagination," Inman told TheStreet. "I would never have dreamed I could successfully put 18% fiber in a loaf of bread two years ago." He said cellulose is common in processed foods, often labeled as reduced-fat or high-fiber -- products like breads, pancakes, crackers, pizza crusts, muffins, scrambled eggs, mashed potato mixes, and even cheesecake. Inman himself keeps a box of Wheat Thins Fiber Selects crackers, manufactured by Kraft Foods ( KFT)' Nabisco brand, at his desk, and snacks on them daily, clearly unmoved by the use of wood pulp in its ingredients. "Most consumers would be shocked to find these types of filler products are used as substitutes for items that they believe are more pure," Yoshikami said. "We would expect increased disclosure to follow increased use of cellulose and other filler products as the practice increases in frequency." To that end, TheStreet rounded up a list of popular foods that use cellulose. It's by no means an exhaustive list, and we suggest consumers read food labels carefully. Still, click through the slideshow to find out if your favorite foods contain the "all-natural" wood pulp... ( Please note the following lists are not exhaustive. Some companies list all ingredients on their Web sites. Other items were found in a local grocery store near TheStreet's headquarters on Wall Street in New York City.)
Weight Watchers International ( WTW)
Sara Lee ( SLE)
Kraft Foods ( KFT)
Sonic ( SONC)
Dole Food ( DOLE)
Nestle ( NSRGY)
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