Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fiber: Good for digestive health, bad as food additive

I have a confession:

I giggle every time I see Jamie Lee Curtis on those Activia commercials. I didn’t grow up during the 80s, so I’m not used to her roles as “Scream Queen.” Instead, when I see her, I shout to my mom, “Hey look! It’s the poop-yogurt lady!”

It doesn’t matter how high-class your sense of humor might be, most people will laugh at jokes about Number Two. Whenever I’m not feeling particularly clever, I enjoy telling such a joke to my 11-year old cousin, Nick. If I can get him to laugh, then I know I’ve still got it.

Everybody poops. The children’s book had it right. And as most adults know, fiber plays a role in that process.

But what is fiber?

Its technical name is cellulose, and it’s a complex polysaccharide with glycosidic linkages at carbons one and four. But I expect few people to know what that means and ever fewer to care. I took organic chemistry courses and even I can’t read that sentence without hearing static.

Simply put, fiber is a carbohydrate – a sugar. But you won’t be sprinkling cellulose in your coffee because humans can’t digest it. It’s what keeps stems upright and it’s what makes bark tough. Termites can digest cellulose and that’s why they love munching on the wooden beams behind our walls.

The body is an amazing machine. If it gets something it knows it can use, it holds on to it and processes it. But if you take in fiber, your body recognizes that it can’t break it down and gets rid of it. Fiber acts like Drano – it pushes its way through your digestive tract and helps move stuck things in the process.

But cellulose has been used for other reasons lately.

Processed foods like microwave dinners or even white bread can be abundant in cellulose. The fiber content in these foods goes beyond that of its constituent plant-based ingredients. Why? Because many food companies use powdered cellulose as filler. It is tasteless, cheap, and with minimal effort can take just about any shape. So to save a few bucks, it’s easier to use cellulose in a pre-packaged dessert cake than flour, sugar, or other premium ingredients. And as a bonus, because of the cellulose content, the brand can advertise as “High Fiber” or “Reduced Fat.”

Hey, wait… Something stinks, here…

The truth is your body can only process a little bit of fiber at a time. An abundance of fiber in your system is detrimental to regularity and digestive health. And since fiber naturally comes from plant life, it’s easier (and tastier) to eat a couple servings of fruits or veggies than it is to shell out cash for Metamucil.

For a more complete list of foods that use cellulose as filler, check out the slideshow15 Food Companies That Sell You Wood

No comments:

Post a Comment