Real Food, Fake Food (November 2019)
Having a practice in California, and more specifically Beverly Hills, where people comment that individuals appear “fake,” I hear clients, non-clients, and people I meet speak about food choices that they make. It seems that the abundance of “fake food” is prevalent here, and everywhere, as there are no shortage of quick-fix powders or supplement said to perform the same function as the “real deal.”
To delve into this deeper, this article will focus on the difference between naturally occurring fiber in foods and fiber powders or vitamins. We hear from our health care providers about eating more fiber but are often confused how to do this and what that actually means. We see fiber added to foods that we didn’t know how it could possibly contain it. To understand what fiber actually is, here is a brief overview:
Fiber is found only in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Dietary fiber is the part of the plant fiber that we eat as food. The outer parts of grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, corn and oats are called bran and are a rich source of fiber. Almost all of the fiber in the grain is found in the bran. The brans from different grains have varying types and amount of fiber. Wheat bran has a high concentration of fiber than most other brans.
Dietary fiber consists of soluble and insoluble fiber. Some soluble fibers are pectin, found in apples and gums, and beta-glucans, found in oats and barley. Soluble fiber helps control blood cholesterol in your digestive tract. This cholesterol is eliminated from your body naturally. Insoluble fiber creates the tough texture found in such foods as wheat bran, whole grains and vegetables.
The recommended amount of fiber per day is 30-38 grams through food. Recently, I have seen fiber added to vitamins, candy bars, cookies, frozen desserts and baked goods. I would imagine when the fiber recommendation came about it wasn’t intended through “fun foods” where the fiber is added instead of occurring naturally.
The new “fake food” to hit the scene is called “Vitafiber.” This is syrup made from IMO, which is Isomaltooligosaccharde. This mouthful of a word is made from tapioca and offers claims that it helps with digestion, immunity, decreases cholesterol and improves mineral absorption. These processed fibers are added to food and, contrary to the name do not contain soluble or insoluble fiber. They are processed in a laboratory and are not intact fiber from grains, fruits, vegetables and other plants.
Sadly, the FDA has approved other “fake fibers” to reduce cholesterol and these are not the same as having fiber through food. The recommended amount of fiber does sound like a lot and studies show that the average person consumes half or less than half the amount of fiber recommended per day. However, making small changes in one’s diet can help them get closer to the recommended amount of fiber suggested.
When people want to remain “regular,” having fibrous foods that increase stool mass and stool frequency is the way to go and the foods listed above help to support this goal.
Products with a “fiber powder” will not provide that. These powders are “fermentable fibers,” meaning they are fermented in the gut and broken down by gut microbiota and do not contribute to stool-forming properties. Key words to be on alert for as “fermentable fibers” include: resistant starch, inulin, fructoolgosaccharide, psyllium and beta-glucan. Psyllium is most famous for being in Metamucil. The bottom line is one may not feel completely evacuated if they rely solely on these types of fiber. Your best bet to achieve that stool output goal is to go back to basics and get that fiber from food.
As I say to my clients, having “real food” is always more physically and emotionally satisfying as well as more effective in serving their intended purpose. I would say this applies to fiber and regularity as well.
Holscher, H. D. (2017). Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes, 8:2, 172-184.