Added Fiber

Breakfast time, which means I’m eating my fiber fortified Kellog’s FiberPlus Berry Yogurt Crunch (and, oh, how I do love it).  Ever since I went on Weight Watchers, though, I always mix in a 1/2 cup of Kashi Go Lean with whatever cereal I eat for extra fiber plus a good dose of protein (now, that’s the stuff for fending off hunger).  If you do much grocery shopping at all, you’ve surely noticed the huge trend towards fiber added foods.  NPR recently ran an interesting, though somewhat problematic, story on the topic.  First, the part I found really quite fascinating:

“We’re looking for elements within things,” says John Swartzberg, a professor of public health at University of California, Berkeley. “Almost a mystical kind of thinking.”

He says that our love affair with food additives — fiber, for example — can be traced back to a single moment in history: British navy, 1747. “They realized that when the sailors were eating citrus fruits, they didn’t get this terrible disease calledscurvy,” he says.

That launched the idea that specific, isolated ingredients in foods could prevent — sometimes even cure — diseases. And often, they could. Vitamin D prevented rickets. Iodine preventedgoiters.

“So all of these things led us to think that we just have to find these magic bullets within foods that we replace and we’ll be much better,” he says. This is the legacy that is on full display at any modern grocery store.

And the part I found problematic:

Just to be clear, all of those are additives that you would not normally find in white bread. When added up, they bring the fiber content up to the magic number of 3 grams. That’s the minimum amount you can pack into a product and still have the words “good source of fiber” on the label.

Matsuno says that designation is a bit generous. “An apple with the peel is 5 grams of fiber,” she says…

But pretty much everyone agrees that given a choice between fiber-fortified sugar cereal and an apple, you’re better off with the apple. “I don’t want people to think that by adding things to unhealthy foods, it somehow makes them healthy,” Swartzberg says. “And I think that’s the most important message.”

I suppose there are people out there who eat fiber-added snack food in the place of fruits and vegetables, but I honestly don’t think there’s very many of them.  I presume that people who will eat apples (I usually have 2-3 day in addition to my fiber-added foods) will eat apples and those who will eat snack food might simply choose the fiber-added variety, and that those who will eat both will eat both.  Barring research that says otherwise, that’s the most obvious outcome.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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