OMG! There’s sawdust in my cheese!

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The whole “don’t buy grated cheese, it’s full of saw dust” popped up this week on one of the keto groups I’m involved with. I was really tempted to reply that it’s where the dietary fiber comes from, but thought better of it. I seriously thought this was put to bed and myth busted years ago but it seems to be doing the rounds again.

Cheese is one of the most popular ingredients in a keto and low carb lifestyle. Aside from being a very easy and great source of quality fat and protein, it can imitate the textures and properties of non-keto friendly or high carb ingredients.

So how much sawdust comes with your cheese ?

Well… in things like fat head dough, we use 170g of grated mozzarella. So 1/3 of a normal size block of cheese give or take. The percentage of dietary fibre is …

Yeah ok, I’ll stop. To be clear, sawdust in cheese is a myth. Cheese manufacturers are not grinding up woodchips and sawdust to add to your shredded cheese. All manufactured grated cheese contains an anti caking agent to stop it from sticking together. The most common one in Australia is E460 Microcrystalline Cellulose.

What is Microcrystalline Cellulose (E460)?

Microcrystalline Cellulose, MCC, E460, is partially depolymerized cellulose prepared by treating alpha-cellulose, from pulp from fibrous plant material, with mineral acids. It looks like a fine white powder and is most commonly used as a texturiser, an anti-caking agent, emulsifier in pasteurised cream, fermented milk, cheese, processed fruit, dried vegetables, etc.

Now in actual English. Cellulose is natural occurring and is literally the word we use to describe the main component of a plant’s cell wall. To put it another way, cellulous is literally in every fruit and vegetable we consume.

But what about the sawdust? This is probably where some creative interpretations came in from a click bait hungry journalist. Yeah, trees contain cellulose. Following that line of logic sawdust does indeed contains cellulose. Does that mean there’s actual sawdust in your grated cheese. Yeah, nah.

But it is harmful?

Let me get this off my chest first. Are additives in your food a good thing? Rarely. Some absolutely should be on a no-fly list for spoonies, particularly with neuropathic conditions. Read more about those here.

Would you be better off buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself? That will depend on the block of cheese because they also have their own additives to be aware of. And even with the fancy attachments for the Kenwood/Kitchen Aid, Thermomix or <insert kitchen gadget here>, to me it feels like a lot of spoons for probably not a lot of net return on the effort.

People who are sensitive to L-Malic Acid may want to avoid it altogether. For some people it can cause bloating and gas and has also been documented to cause other minor side effects like headaches, forgetfulness, lack of energy.

After doing a bit more poking around the interwebs and journals, the studies on the toxicology of E460 seem to loop back to source studies done in the 1990s. By all accounts, it continues to be certified as safe to consume by international food safety bodies. While I think there is a lot to be said about the cumulative impact of what we put into our bodies, particularly bodies that are under stress from chronic conditions, for me personally this particular additive is not on my list of things I’m worried about.

Other common anti-caking agents in cheeses include various starches that are sometimes specified, other times just listed as starch. Again, this is probably not a battle worth fighting unless you have allergies or intolerances to the ingredients. Starches can also add to the carb count in foods, so it is worth checking the nutrition panel as well.

What are our top picks for grated cheeses?


Disclaimer: No Spoons to Cook is based on our own experience and research, and what we know works best for us. It is not medical advice. Our recipes focus on low inflammatory ingredients, whole foods and are founded in ketogenic and low carb ways of eating. We encourage spoonies to stay curious, ask questions, do your own research, listen to your body and to work with a Registered Dietitian or Medical Professional when appropriate to tailor your nutritional needs to support your care plan and goals.

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