Just take a glance at the nutritional info for the food at most of the major fast food restaurants around the country — McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King— and you’ll find a common, seemingly innocuous ingredient made from wood: cellulose.
Powdered cellulose, or microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) in technical terms, is a non-digestible fibrous material that is used as filler in pills, home insulation, or to make stretchy gym clothes, among other unsavory applications.
And while it can be made in a variety of ways, the USDA notes it’s “predominantly derived from wood pulp after a chemical delignification process.”
Put simply, the stuff is made by heavily bleaching and chemically treating the same wood we use for paper.
Cellulose is really good at making things stick together and get chunky, which makes nuggets more nuggety and sauces ever saucier. It’s also good at making things bigger and adding weight without having to add any actual, you know, food.
Your body doesn’t even process it, and experts are still weighing in on whether or not consuming it affects our health negatively.
As Quartz notes, McDonalds is the top offender with 14 cellulose-padded menu items, with Burger King coming in just behind with 13 menu items.
Remarkably, it’s in everything from chicken nuggets, to sauces, to milk shakes, fries and buns.
Fast food isn’t the only offender, but it’s definitely another worrying aspect of our restaurant culture that shouldn’t just be dismissed as paranoia.