Improve texture, stabilize foam (beer), prevent fruit from settling, prevent sugar from crystallizing (cake icings), bind water: Ice cream, beer, pie fillings and jellies, cake icings, diet foods.

Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is a thickening agent that is made by reacting CELLULOSE (wood pulp, cotton lint) with a derivative of acetic acid (the acid in vinegar). It is also called cellulose gum.

CMC has long been considered safe, but a 2015 study funded by the National Institutes of Health raised some doubts. It found that both CMC and another emulsifier (polysorbate 80) affected gut bacteria and triggered inflam­matory bowel disease symptoms and other changes in the gut, as well as obesity and a set of obesity-related disease risk factors known as metabolic syndrome. In mice that were predisposed to colitis, the emulsifiers promoted the disease. It is possible that polysorbates, CMC, and other emulsifiers act like detergents to disrupt the mucous layer that lines the gut, and that the results of the study may apply to other emulsifiers as well. Research is needed to determine long-term effects of these and other emulsifiers at levels that people consume.

CMC is not absorbed or digested, so the FDA allows it to be included with “dietary fiber” on food labels. CMC isn’t as healthful as fiber that comes from natural foods.