First off, I should confess that I am a fiber nut... which sounds like a cereal. After researching the digestive tracts of all of our closest genetic relatives, it is obvious that our tracts have evolved to handle vastly higher amounts of fiber than the average American is getting. The USDA recommends between twenty and thirty grams of fiber daily for an adult. The average American is getting less than ten. TEN. It is truly amazing that anyone is able to poop.
Chimpanzees, by comparison, eat hundreds of grams of fiber in a day. Granted, they spend, no exaggeration, 90% of their waking hours chewing, so it is equally obvious that we should not be trying to eat the same diet as our chimpy cousins. But while our digestive systems may be structurally different for this reason, they are mechanically nearly identical. Our guts all operate on the same principles, as it were. Fiber is a critical element in our diets. It is far more important than we initially thought and its importance grows with each passing scientific study. We absolutely need to be eating more fiber. A lot more.
But what is fiber? Likewise, as we discover how important fiber is, we discover how different kinds of fiber do different things. Insoluble fiber is the kind of fiber that Grandma referred to as "ruffage" and aside from differences in water absorbtion, they all do pretty much the same thing. This is the fiber that you can get from bananas, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. How insoluble fiber works is being researched, but a likely-accurate guess is that it literally tears through your digestive tract, creating tiny cuts that elicits fluid production and peristalsis. This mechanical nature means that all insoluble fiber is pretty much the same.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, has better-understood mechanisms. It's also here where the kind of fiber that you are getting is important. Soluble fiber, while initially not digestible by the human tract, is digestible by other little things living in our tract. These helpful little bacteria, which I imagine to be as cute as Water Bears, eat the fiber and produce biologically active byproducts. These byproducts have far-reaching benefits for our physiology. But as you would imagine, slight differences in fiber structure will result in different end-products after the bacteria eat it. It is simple chemistry.
It is this simple chemistry that flummoxed me after I discovered FiberSure and was confident in my high fiber intake. FiberSure, now called Metamucil Clear & Natural, is great. It mixes cleanly into nearly everything. Sadly, it's not nearly as good as I thought, and my earlier confidence affirms the danger of nutritionism when it stands unanalyzed.
FiberSure is made from inulin, a plant fiber that is actually a carbohydrate. In most cases, the type that you see on store shelves has been derived from chicory root. Inulin mixes so easily because it breaks down easily into the superfine powder that is Clear & Natural. Its taste in slightly sweet, but it is otherwise neutral. You can, and I do, mix it into almost anything.
So if inulin is so amazing, why did it suddenly explode on to the market? Because until recently, it wasn't classified as a fiber. After it got that label, food companies were free to exploit it. Unfortunately, as is infuriatingly the frequent case, they are increasingly exploiting this to your detriment.
Have you ever tried a FiberOne or Fiber Plus granola bar? Taste great, don't they? That's because they are candy.
NINE GRAMS OF FIBER?! That's amazing! How do they do it?!
With inulin, that's how. Take a butchers at the first ingredient: chicory root extract. As in, inulin. What is the second ingredient? Chocolate chips. Beyond that, and the sugar contained therein, let's count the sugars: Corn syrup, sugar, HM corn syrup, and fructose; four. That is candy with near-zero nutritional benefit aside from the added inulin which you could get more easily and cheaply by simply stirring it into a glass of milk.
Moreover, the damned thing has the same calorie count as two large eggs. You could make an entire omelette for only slightly more calories and a whole butt-load more nutrients. You could buy the 90-Calorie versions, but they achieve that energy reduction by simply reducing the size of the bars: 23g instead of 40g.
pouch, 5 ct, 6 ct (Limited Availability), 10 ct, 5 ct
IngredientsCHICORY ROOT FIBER, ROLLED OATS, CRISP RICE (RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, MALT EXTRACT, SALT, MIXED TOCOPHEROLS FOR FRESHNESS), SUGAR, SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE DROPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, DEXTROSE, MILK FAT, SOY LECITHIN, CONFECTIONER'S GLAZE [SHELLAC, HYDROGENATED COCONUT OIL]), INULIN FROM CHICORY ROOT, VEGETABLE OIL (HYDROGENATED AND/OR PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL, COCONUT AND PALM OIL)†, CANOLA OIL, FRUCTOSE, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF HONEY, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), GLYCERIN, TRICALCIUM PHOSPHATE, WHEY, CHOCOLATE, SALT, GUM ARABIC, BAKING SODA, SOY LECITHIN, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, POLYSORBATE 60, VITAMIN E ACETATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ZINC OXIDE, ALMOND FLOUR, NONFAT DRY MILK, WHEAT STARCH, PARTIALLY DEFATTED PEANUT FLOUR, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, BHT (FOR FRESHNESS).
†LESS THAN 0.5g TRANS FAT PER SERVING
First ingredient? Inulin. Then we have more inulin later on. Combined with that are six instances of sugar, and two examples of hydrogenated oil. Not only is there too much sugar, they are also making sure that you get your daily dose of trans fats. Because, remember, they can legally claim zero grams of trans fat per serving as long as it is below 0.5g... which means that they shoot for 0.49g.
In general, if you are buying anything with either Kellogg's, Post, or General Mills logo on the box, it is likely one step above eating garbage. Obviously, even these kings of crap produce a few good things. Both Fiber Plus and Fiber One cereals are actually quite healthy, being loaded with every kind of fiber there is. The gold standard is obvious original Fiber One, which is nearly equivalent to going into the woods and grazing. The downside is that it hasn't been blended with various soluble fibers. Likewise, standouts like All Bran, Grape Nuts, and the iconic Cheerios all make good decisions for part of your morning routine.
I stress the part of element to that statement because you are insane if you are eating solely cereal in the morning instead of yogurt, eggs, chicken, bacon, granola, fruit, and vegetables. Not only are those options vastly superior to nearly ever cereal as regards nutrition, they also taste better. Make French toast with high-fiber bread. Make an omelet with cheese and a single-serving box of mixed veggies. Pour yogurt and some granola over berries. There is nothing saying that all of these options can't also be paired with some cereal. These simple meals take only slightly more time and you will charge out to greet the day filled with energy.
But back to fiber.
As the focus on national health has increased, all of the cereal companies are trying their level best to market cereal that is healthy, but still tastes like cereal. That means sugar. Frequently tons of it. Kellogg's Smart Start, most types of granola, Raisin Bran, Special K, Honey Bunches of Oats: all of them are masquerading as healthy when, in fact, they are far from it. They are only healthy as "part of this complete breakfast," which is one of the greatest lines of bullshit in the history of advertising; the breakfast would still be complete without the cereal.
That is the final point of this rant: marketing. It was marketing that confused me. I was taken in with dietary pick-up lines about easy fiber, high fiber, more fiber, digestive health, and other such statements that have not been evaluated by the FDA. Knowing what you know about a healthy diet, look at the borderline-criminal advertisements for Frosted Flakes, where they stress sports, and health, and an active lifestyle. Frosted Flakes Gold is packaged like it's some kind of exercise supplement. Which I guess is good, because you had better exercise like crazy just to burn off all of the calories that you are taking in from their sugar-bombed fat flakes.
If you can't tell, I have nothing but respect for the cereal companies, and very little of that.
I do not blame the companies, though. A company does what it does, that is, make money. It is legally obligated to the share-holders and only makes what it thinks people will buy. People have a habit of buying foods that are loaded with sugar and are shockingly unhealthy for them, so any smart company is going to make those products. We can't, nor should we, force companies to make foods that won't sell, but we need to make a system that doesn't facilitate disinformation and lies. It is from here where the problem springs, and with those who created this system where the blame truly lies.
I do not blame the cereal companies, I blame the politicians that accept their bribes. Oh right, I forgot. It is not bribes. It is campaign contributions. I expect companies to earn money and do whatever is legally allowed to do that. I expect our representatives to actually do what is best for us.
We have a simple task: make a rule set that is internally coherent, provides information to consumers, gives freedom to companies, does this based on the best science available, and is instituted to specifically be updated based on that science on a set schedule.
This is not hard.
I hope that this short introduction has shown you why it is critical that fiber gets classified as an essential macronutrient, and that the various kinds of fiber get separate classification. That we have no daily recommendations for it nor rigorously defined separation between those various kinds is a serious problem, one that is far greater than the busted Food Pyramid ever was. The nebulousness must be eliminated. Doing so would immediately remove the ability of food companies to trick us with nonsense like high-fiber grape juice. As it stands, we have crap-loads of products filling the shelves touting HIGH IN FIBER, and what they should actually say is "High in Inulin!".
While that may not sound quite as catchy for the marketing department, I don't care. The marketing is lying, and we don't have the regulations to hold them accountable. That needs to change, because I read everything ever, and even I was fooled. What chance does a harried parent have?