“Get more fiber in your diet.” Consumers have been hearing this key nutrition message for years. So they start scanning nutrition facts panels of products they buy, looking for fiber content.
And the food industry, always one step ahead, starts pumping fiber into everything, even candy.
In many products, the fiber is from whole grains that are the main ingredient – bread for example. But in many cases, you’ll see inulin is the main source of fiber, tacked on to an otherwise fiber poor energy bar or fiber-less yogurt.
In a short article picked up by Reuters, Rachael Myers Lowe writes:
“Normal fiber foods like wheat bran and legumes are self-limiting, it’s hard to over eat them,” Joanne Slavin, a registered dietitian in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul, told Reuters Health.
Inulin, she explained, may be in chocolate bars, drinks, and snacks around the house, and “before you know it, you may eat more than you can tolerate and have gastrointestinal issues you wouldn’t necessarily associate” with those foods.
What you need to know:
(Dietary) fibers are carbohydrates (carbs) that do not get absorbed by our digestive system. They help us feel fuller, so we eat less, and they fill an important role in intestinal chemistry, or what some people call “keeping regular”. It’s important to get enough fiber into our system in order to keep the pipes flowing. Unfortunately, modern diets have depleted fiber from most people’s meals, through highly refined foods.
Adding fiber to foods after we stripped them out just makes sense. If we can add vitamin C to Orange Juice, and fortify cereals with 9 vitamin and minerals, why not find a similar fiber solution?
Inulin is a naturally occurring fiber found in high concentrations in chicory roots. What makes it popular with food manufacturers is its ability to successfully mix with other ingredients without ruining their flavor. It’s slightly sweet, about a quarter sweet as sugar.
However,too much of a good thing may not be so good, as a recent study of 26 healthy men and women aged 18 to 60 showed:
After a night of fasting, once a week for five weeks, participants were fed a breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and orange juice. The orange juice was mixed with a placebo or with 5- or 10-gram doses of two commonly used inulin products.
After their “fiber challenge,” participants were called several times over two days and asked about symptoms such as gas/bloating, nausea, flatulence, stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation and GI rumbling.
Flatulence was the most common symptom reported by all subjects who got fiber although symptoms were “highly variable” among individuals and many subjects did not experience any, the investigators say.
Conclusion: some people have a more sensitive digestive system than others. The next time flatulence strikes you, try to recall if you’ve had any super doses of fiber from a processed food.
What to do at the supermarket:
As in many cases, best sources of fiber are from unprocessed foods. Buy whole grain breads, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
When buying something in a box or wrapper, read the ingredient list to see what the source of fiber is. Inulin can also appear as chicory root extract, oligosaccharide, or oligofructose.
If you’re trying a new source of fiber, don’t overdo it all at once. It takes time for the digestive tract to get used to all that fiber.