E466

Carboxymethyl cellulose (cmc)

  • Our verdict: 4 - we recommend avoiding
  • Origin: It is produced synthetically and does not come from natural sources.

E466 Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) is a cellulose derivative commonly used as a food additive. It is produced by reacting cellulose, derived from plant cell walls, with chloroacetic acid. The resulting compound is water‑soluble and has a high viscosity, making it useful for thickening, stabilizing, and emulsifying. CMC is widely used in the food industry to improve the texture and stability of various products.

Origin

Carboxymethyl cellulose is of artificial origin. It is synthesized through a chemical process that modifies natural cellulose. The process involves the substitution of the hydroxyl groups in cellulose with carboxymethyl groups (-CH2‑COOH). This modification enhances the solubility and functional properties of cellulose, making CMC suitable for a wide range of applications in food and other industries.

Characteristics

  • Thickening Agent: CMC increases the viscosity of liquids, giving them a thicker consistency.
  • Stabilizer: It helps stabilize emulsions and suspensions, preventing ingredients from separating.
  • Emulsifier: CMC aids in mixing water and oil‑based ingredients, creating uniform mixtures.
  • Film Forming: It forms a film that can encapsulate ingredients, protecting them from degradation.
  • Water Retention: Helps in retaining moisture in food products, improving shelf life and texture.

Uses in Ultra‑Processed Foods

Carboxymethyl cellulose is extensively used in ultra‑processed foods for several reasons:

  • Texture Improvement: CMC improves the mouthfeel and prevents ice crystal formation in ice creams and frozen desserts, ensuring a smooth texture. It enhances the softness and moisture retention in baked products like bread, cakes, and pastries.
  • Stabilization and Emulsification: CMC prevents oil and water separation in dressings, sauces, and gravies, maintaining a consistent texture and appearance. It stabilizes protein drinks, fruit juices, and other beverages, preventing sedimentation and phase separation.
  • Shelf Life Extension: CMC helps retain moisture in processed meats, reducing dryness and extending shelf life. It ensures that the texture and consistency of ready‑to‑eat meals remain stable during storage and reheating.
  • Fat & Calorie Reduction: In low‑fat and reduced‑calorie foods, CMC can mimic the mouthfeel and texture of fat, allowing for fat reduction without compromising on texture.
  • Gluten Replacement: Cellulose gum aids in creating gluten‑free products that mimic the texture of gluten‑containing counterparts, catering to individuals with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

Health Considerations

While Carboxymethyl cellulose is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by regulatory bodies like the FDA, there are some health considerations and potential risks associated with its consumption:

Alteration of Gut Microbiota: Some studies suggest that high consumption of CMC may alter gut microbiota composition, potentially affecting gut health.

Cardiovascular Disease: In 2023 a study found that high consumption of cellulose gum (E466) is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.

Impaired Nutrient Absorption: Cellulose gum may impede the absorption of specific nutrients in the digestive tract, particularly minerals like calcium and magnesium. Prolonged and excessive intake could potentially lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Digestive Disorders: Individuals with certain digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), may experience heightened sensitivity to cellulose gum, potentially exacerbating their symptoms.

Gastrointestinal Side Effects: Excessive consumption of cellulose gum can cause stomach discomfort and inflammation in some people, particularly those sensitive to high‑fiber foods, leading to bloating, gas and diarrhea.

Processed Food Consumption: Cellulose gum is often found in processed foods, which typically lack essential nutrients and may be high in added sugars and unhealthy fats. Regular consumption of such foods can contribute to an unbalanced diet and obesity.

Allergic Reactions: Though rare, some individuals may be allergic to cellulose gum, experiencing symptoms such as itching, hives, or swelling.

Overconsumption: Cellulose gum is prevalent in a wide range of processed foods, leading to the possibility that individuals who frequently consume these products may ingest larger amounts of cellulose gum than intended.

Given these potential risks, it is advisable to consume CMC‑containing foods in moderation, particularly for individuals with sensitive digestive systems.

References

  1. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). "Carboxymethyl cellulose". Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Volume 3.
  2. European Food Safety Authority. (2018). "Re‐evaluation of cellulose and cellulose derivatives (E 460–466) as food additives". EFSA Journal.
  3. Healthline Media. (2021). "Carboxymethyl Cellulose: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects".
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2019). "Dietary Emulsifiers and the Microbiota‑Gut‑Brain Axis". Frontiers in Neuroscience.
  5. Costa EM, Silva S, Pereira CF, Ribeiro AB, Casanova F, Freixo R, Pintado M, Ramos ÓL. Carboxymethyl Cellulose as a Food Emulsifier: Are Its Days Numbered? Polymers (Basel). 2023 May 22;15(10):2408. doi: 10.3390/polym15102408. PMID: 37242982; PMCID: PMC10221013.
  6. Sellem L, Srour B, Javaux G, Chazelas E, Chassaing B, Viennois E, Debras C, Salamé C, Druesne‑Pecollo N, Esseddik Y, de Edelenyi FS, Agaësse C, De Sa A, Lutchia R, Louveau E, Huybrechts I, Pierre F, Coumoul X, Fezeu LK, Julia C, Kesse‑Guyot E, Allès B, Galan P, Hercberg S, Deschasaux‑Tanguy M, Touvier M. Food additive emulsifiers and risk of cardiovascular disease in the NutriNet‑Santé cohort: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2023 Sep 6;382:e076058. doi: 10.1136/bmj‑2023‑076058. PMID: 37673430; PMCID: PMC10480690.