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One Small Change

Fibbing About Fiber

C. Sherburne / Photolink

As I try to lose weight this month by doing nothing more than eating 14 grams of additional daily fiber, I’ve been reading a lot of food labels. And I’m finding that some products I never expected to contain any fiber actually hold a shocking amount. For example:

  • Fiber One Key Lime Pie Yogurt (5 grams per container)
  • Skinny Cow No-Sugar-Added Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches (5 grams per sandwich)
  • Propel Body Peach Mango Water (6 grams per 20 ounces)

So what am I doing choking down steel-cut oats, bulgar wheat and mung beans? Apparently, all these products have more roughage than even such fibrous hall-of-famers as Sunsweet Prune Juice and Metamucil (both of which offer a comparatively measly 3 grams per 8 ounces.)

How can this be? How can a bottle of water be so laden with fiber—unless they're counting the container?

The answer lies in a 158-page report recently compiled and sent to the FDA by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). It detailed all kinds of misleading and false food labeling. Among them were fiber claims being made by manufacturers who were adding nontraditional “isolated fiber” to their products in an attempt to make them appear more wholesome and healthful. According to CSPI experts, these are “mostly the purified powders inulin, polydextrose and maltodextrin.”

Never heard of them? Neither had I. But once I started studying ingredients rather than just nutrition panels, I began spotting them all over the place. Fiber One Yogurt contains chicory root extract, which is the same as inulin. Skinny Cow has maltodextrin and polydextrose. Propel lists maltodextrin right after water in its ingredient list. Even Campbell’s High Fiber V8 Juice, which had become my new breakfast staple (5 grams of fiber per 8 ounces), harbored this maltodextrin stuff.

Now don’t panic and do a complete cleanse of your kitchen cabinets. These substances aren’t necessarily bad for you. It’s just “unlikely,” according to CSPI, that they carry all the same health benefits as traditional fiber and naturally fiber-rich foods. For instance, although polydextrose may help you stay regular, CSPI experts say inulin and maltodextrin won’t. Likewise, there’s no scientific proof that any of them help lower cholesterol or facilitate weight loss in the same way good old-fashioned fiber does. Plus, they don’t contain any of the nourishing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients of whole-fiber foods.

So what’s a fiber junkie to do? For advice I consulted Danielle LaFata, RD, CSSD, CPT, a performance nutritionist at Athlete’s Performance. Here are her three rules:

  1. Ignore the hype on the package. Sadly, you can’t trust many of the claims made there. For proof, read CSPI’s full report.
  2. Study the ingredient list. Instead of looking only at the total amount of dietary fiber on the nutrition panel, search among the ingredients for where the fiber is derived. Buy only foods with simple, whole, recognizable, and relatively few ingredients. “I like to think of it as coming back to earth with my diet,” she says.
  3. Keep things in perspective. Boosting your fiber intake isn’t a license to swallow more junk. So forgo the cookies and ice creams that promise more roughage and instead reach for those foods that don’t come in packages or don’t even have labels, namely fruits and vegetables.

“I saw a commercial for Fruit Loops a few months back that made me so mad I almost lost it," says LaFata. "It said that it’s healthier now because there’s more fiber in it. Just because a product has a bit more fiber doesn’t make it instantly healthy. Unless you're careful you can get duped big-time.”

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Nutrients, Health, Weight Loss, Food