Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Faux-Fiber Faux Pas

Question: What do these three things have in common?

1.) Demi Moore's current face.

2.) The stranger pressed against me on our shared morning train commute listening to David Banner's "Play" so loudly that I too can hear his gravelly whispered lyrics imploring some female to "finger-f**k your p***y like you want some".

3) Foods fortified with fiber.

Answer: All of these things make feel very uncomfortable.

To those watching their waistlines, it's no secret that fiber is a crucial piece in the tummy-trimming tool box. In addition to other important health benefits, fiber slows down digestion, preventing sweeping spikes in blood sugar and helping you feel full for a good while after your meal. All good things. Beware, however, of fad fiber - that is, "functional" or "fortified" fiber.

As a general rule, it's wise to seek out essential nutrients from their natural sources. In other words, not in the form of a fortified beverage, bar, or injectable solution. (Look out for the upcoming launch of new Nestle's "Ouchess Omega-3 Shots"! No, no, it's cool - the branded syringe is reusable - it's good for you AND green!)

In the case of fiber, this rule of thumb most definitely rings true. First off, fiber-full fruits, vegetables, and whole grains naturally slow down your eating and help reduce overall calorie intake simply becuase you've got to spend more time chewing your food. With juices, shakes, and four-bite bars, you totally lose the chew factor. Plus, whether or not functional fiber has the same satiating effects as do naturally occurring fiber remains unclear.

Finally, products loaded with fad fiber can cause serious GI distress. Not only is belly bloating quite uncomfortable, but you also have to figure that you're defeating the purpose of consuming supposedly figure-saving fiber when you're walking around looking as though you're carrying a beach volley ball under your shirt.

Look out for fad fiber along the grocery store's center aisles. If a package loudly boasting its fiber content seems to good to be true (I didn't know Twizzlers provided 20% of my Daily Value!), it probably is. Check ingredient lists for fad fiber culprits:
  • Inulin
  • Chicory extract/inulin
  • Dahlia extract/inulin
  • Fructo-Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • Isolated beta-glucans
  • Isolated lignins
  • Polydextrose
  • Psyllium husk

To get the full benefits of fiber, go for the real deal. Stock up on produce, look for whole-grain products that list a whole grain or whole-grain flour as the first ingredient, and swap out meat or cheese in your meal for plant-based proteins like beans and lentils for added fiber.

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