Sunday, January 4, 2015

Four Frustrating Fiber Fallacies

As we depart the over-indulgence that, for many, marks the Holiday Season, the media barrage turns to the next stage in the pop-culture cycle: sudden weight loss.  And, with it, a barrage of ads extolling the near-miraculous benefits of FIBER.  I truly hate this time of year, simply because of this commercial assault on well-intentioned (if mis-informed) consumers.

We've written before about spotting scams, but this one is a special case.  The fiber-pushers have just enough good information tangled up with their junk claims to really confuse the issue.  Having sufficient levels of dietary fiber in you diet is important.  But the idea that you should buy somebody's proprietary product to solve all your woes just - well - it pisses me off, frankly.  

So let's try and separate the myth from fact:

Fiber Fallacy 1:  Grain

The term "Whole Grain" has been so effectively co-opted by marketers that Westerners are fairly convinced that the best place to find fiber is in the bottom of a cereal box.  This is a manipulation of the truth.  Grains that are, in fact, "whole", not processed down to flours are a great source of fiber.  But - in most products you buy at the store, the trade off between the ACTUAL amount of fiber you're getting and the simple carbohydrates and sugars put them in a losing category nutritionally.

The truth: Veggies!  Fiber (technically, non-digestable fiber) is one of the categories of carbohydrate: simple, complex, and non-digestible fiber.  Among simple carbs are your sugars.  Ounce for ounce, your best source for complex carbs and dietary fiber are fresh vegetables, especially when you factor in the low sugar content.  So skip the "whole-ish" wheat bread and head for the produce aisle!

Fiber Fallacy 2: It helps you "go"
Yep, Steve, you got that about right.
As a (nearly) lifelong consumer (you can read a little of our back-story here) of the Standard American Diet, I had all the fun side effects that go with it.  And I'm not ashamed to say that I, quite literally, "bought in" to the fiber supplement message to generate some - well - movement - on the issue.  And - like most of you I'm sure - I was disappointed in the results.  That's because, yet again, the marketers only share the part of their message that helps sell you products.  Dropping a couple spoonfuls of powdered goop on top of the mess in your gut is like blowing on a house fire: pointless.

The truth: Read the ENTIRE message.  Nutrition plans that include daily servings of high-fiber food (like veggies) are a good thing for your gut health.  But, like anything, you need to look at your complete nutritional picture.  The idea would be that a healthy nutrition plan was high in fiber and complex carbs because it was lower in the gut-jamming simple carb junk foods our lives tend to revolve around.  Plus, and I can't say this strongly enough - drink MORE WATER!  If you're jammed up, hydration is your friend, not powders.

Fiber Fallacy 3: Fiber for weight loss
This follows along with the reasoning listed in #2.  A nutrition plan for weight loss should absolutely include regular servings of high-fiber foods (did I mention how awesome veggies are?)  As a non-digestible nutrient, fiber is calorie-free.  And foods that naturally have a lot of it are loaded with all kinds of other goodness.  But chomping down on a fiber bar after your fast-food jumbo meal with extra fries is NOT some kind of magical fat-melting concoction.  These are just calories on top of other calories and money wasted on a crutch. 

The truth: Eating more good foods in exchange for eating less junk-empty-calorie-laden foods will give you the fiber you SHOULD have and support weight loss goals.

Fiber Fallacy 4: Heart-healthy
Again - you have to look at your WHOLE nutritional picture.  If the rest of your diet is junk, than no bowl of toasty-o's or powdered supplement is going to overcome the damage you are steadily doing to yourself.  It's not a cure: it's a PART of an overall health-focused nutrition plan.  There is nothing magical about the fiber molecule that will seek out and obliterate blood cholesterol.  In fact, your blood will NEVER meet Mister Fiber, because, that's right, he's non-digestible. 

So - I'll say it again: fiber is GREAT!  Go have foods that have lots of it.  But now you're better armed to separate what is nutritionally meaningful from the marketing hype.  Eat simple, whole foods in proportion to the nutrients you require and you'll be well ahead of the game. 

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