Natural Foods Merchandiser
NFM Secret Shopper: What is cellulose doing in my supplements?

NFM Secret Shopper: What is cellulose doing in my supplements?

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: I see cellulose in a lot of my supplements. What is it?

Store (Midsized health food store in the Midwest): Cellulose is the stuff they use to make the capsules that the supplements go in. I’m not sure if it’s bad for you. No one has asked me that before. The only thing I know is that a lot of Muslims and similar groups won’t take any pills with gelatin because it’s made from animals.

NFM: So it’s not unhealthy for me?

Store: I don’t think so, unless you’re having some kind of reaction.

NFM: Do you think I should hit the Internet to read up on it?

Store: Yeah, but I’d be careful. There are a lot of websites saying products could do this or that to you. Make sure you find a credible source that has research to back it up.

How did this retailer do?

Expert evaluator Robert Rountree, MD, an integrative health practitioner in Boulder, Colo., and clinical editor for the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies:

The retailer should have provided a more definitive source for obtaining solid scientific information. Cellulose is the most common organic compound on earth, and it deserves better recognition for the role it plays in a healthy diet.

Cellulose is a type of dietary fiber derived from plants. Plants and algae use it to make up the primary structural backbone of their cell walls. In fact, about one-third of all plant matter is made of cellulose, so that makes it a major component of any diet that includes fruits, vegetables and grains. Most dietary supplement companies use finely ground cellulose as an inert filler in capsules containing powdered ingredients. It can also be processed further to make a gel called hypromellose, which is then used to make vegetarian capsules.

Processed cellulose is completely safe and hypoallergenic. Although it is only partially digested, it is a beneficial substance that helps add bulk to stools.

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