'Fake' Fiber in Your Food? How to Spot It


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  71 comments   :  33,551 Views

Studies over the last two decades have revealed ways to chemically alter naturally digestible starches. The chemical modifications introduce bonds that make them non-digestible by human enzymes in the digestive tract. Benefits of the newly manufactured starch fiber additives are largely unknown.

We have talked about the new manufactured fibers known as stealth fiber. We have mentioned there is a new fiber category in the midst of the FDA rulemaking process apparently with the full backing of industry. New products are finding a place at the manufacturing table. New fiber enhancement products are being added so baked goods, snack foods, breakfast cereals, and nutrition bars can meet "good source of fiber" or "excellent source of fiber" labeling claims. Now we need to talk about how you can use this information.

You will not find "stealth fiber" listed on the food label. You may see or hear "modified natural fibers" used in marketing campaigns. Strange derivative terms for natural portions of wheat, potato, or corn are more likely to appear on labels. It will be important for consumers to have an understanding of such terms as an indicator of modification. Here are some specifics to help you decipher food labels as you interpret product fiber sources.

The term resistant starch is becoming more and more common. These starches are both naturally occurring as well as manufactured. When you eat whole foods such as whole grain breads, lentils, beans or brown rice, about five percent of the starch is a natural source of resistant starch. This small percentage is considered non-glycemic because it travels intact to the large intestine. However, the remaining ninety-five percent is digestible and does have a glycemic response. Manufactures have found chemical ways to create ingredients with high resistant starch content to boost otherwise low fiber foods that mimic the natural resistant fiber. Commercially manufactured forms of resistant starch you may see include HYLON VII, Hi-maize 1043, NOVELOSE 240, ActiStar, CrystaLean. You may also see labels listing high-amylose maize starch, recrystallised maize starch, or tapioca starch. These are frequently used in the low-carbohydrate foods market.

Inulin is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and herbs like wheat, artichokes, asparagus, and chicory root. When you consume it in its original starchy form as part of a whole food, you consume a fructan comprised of fructose units. Manufactures have learned to modify these fructan properties and new fiber definitions allow its addition for additional fiber. Approximately 60 percent or more of today's fiber fortification is from modified inulin in forms such as syrups, powders, or crisped pieces. Look for ingredients on food labels with other names such as beta(2-1)fructans, Chicory Extract, Chicory Inulin, Dahlia Extract, Dahlia Inulin, Fructo-Oligosaccharides (may also be Fructooligosaccharides), Long-chain Oligosaccharides, Oligosaccharides, or Prebiotics.

Other manufactured fibers that meet the functional fiber definition that you may see on ingredient labels include isolated beta-glucans, galactomannans, isolated lignin, low methoxylated pectins, ispaghula husk, modified cellulose, methylcellulose, propylcellulose, resistant dextrins and polydextrose. Polydextrose is one to pay special attention to if you have gastrointestinal issues since it is created by combining dextrose in the form of corn sugar with sorbitol. When an item contains one-half ounce of polydextrose or more, the FDA requires the following warning, "Sensitive individuals may experience a laxative effect from excessive consumption of this product."

Fiber supplements have been a long-standing form of manufactured fiber. These are helpful for people with regulatory issues secondary to a disease state, medication use, or whole food fiber limitations. They provide a valuable alternative to stool softener options. However, if you are using them as a way to boost your fiber intake instead of getting it from whole foods, be aware of the ingredients and their manufactured nature. Benefiber powder's first ingredient is wheat dextrin and Citrucel now contains Smartfiber which is methylcellulose. Metamucil on the other hand contains psyllium husk. Know what you are buying and be sure you are buying the right item for the correct purpose especially if you have a medical condition or take other medications.

The Bottom Line

More and more foods such as yogurt, ice cream, white breads, toaster treats, and sugary cereals are marketed as a good source of fiber. Caution is encouraged when selecting processed foods promoting fiber. This is especially true for processed foods highlighting a low net carb ratio. Typically, these contain manufactured fibers added to boost the fiber count in order to market it as one that is low in carbohydrates regardless of its total calorie level or total carbohydrate contribution. Instead, look for labels that contain oat bran and wheat bran as their fiber source.

If you are having trouble meeting your weight loss goals and your diet includes many manufactured fibers, work to remove those in favor of the whole food alternatives such as dried beans, legumes, citrus fruits and berries as well as nuts and seeds. This will ensure you are getting beneficial vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients along with your fiber. If disease or medications cause irregularity issues that require a fiber supplement, read the ingredient label carefully to be sure what you are getting. Marketing hype can make things confusing. Your medical provider or pharmacist is also a helpful resource.

Because manufactured fiber is an evolving area in the food industry, compiling a complete list of manufactured fiber ingredient names is difficult. By becoming aware of some of the terms, you will more easily navigate marketing confusion and labeling games as you seek to minimize manufactured fiber intake.

Which are you getting more of in your diet, real fiber or manufactured isolated fiber? Are you getting the health benefits you thought?

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  • 21
    great thanks so much - 9/2/2010   1:37:51 PM
  • 20
    Yikes. Seriously getting more and more paranoid about food...and I'm thinking that's not a good thing. It's not helpful when the 'cheapest' foods available are prepackaged or processed items. *sigh* - 9/2/2010   1:06:20 PM
  • 19
    You are so funny Kimrex! Yes I want to pull out my hair too! The food market cares less about our actual health and more about sales! I find it very frustrating that there are so many chemicals, and artificail additives to our foods that are not good for us! Like for instance, Orange Crush soda for years has been adding what they call 'esters of wood rosin' to the soda. Do you all know what that is? It is wood alcohol, and it is poison! - 9/2/2010   12:51:59 PM
  • 18
    Does anyone besides me want to scream and pull their hair out? Trying to keep track of all of the things you have to consider when buying processed food is overwhelming. I think I will stick with the rule of thumb that if the product has a market campaign I should avoid it. - 9/2/2010   12:19:43 PM
  • 17
    Wow! Yet another adulteration of our foods. High fructose corn syrup, genetically engineered grains and legumes, and now manufactured starch fiber! What else is blowing in on the winds of higher profits and worse nutrition. Thank goodness for the local farmers' markets, and Barbara Kingsolver's great testimony to eating local! - 9/2/2010   11:49:15 AM
  • 16
    OK, now I know why I 'suffered' so much when I used to eat the fiber enriched foods. I decided to stop eating those foods and get my fiber from real food and my stomach likes that so much better! - 9/2/2010   11:25:09 AM
  • 15
    The variety of manufactured/artificial ingredients that go into prepackaged foods is overwhelming. Whole foods truly are a gift from God. - 9/2/2010   10:48:39 AM
  • 14
    Seriously, why can't they leave food alone. White bread now has high fiber content? It's enough that we have to look at labels to see how much fat/fiber/protein/sugar, but now to have to decipher and know whether they are real or not. Just makes me think there are toooooo many food scientists out there! - 9/2/2010   10:47:16 AM
    Yep, they make it but we buy it. How sad is it that everyone is looking for the quick fix? I've adjusted myself to focusing on whole foods for my nutrients. I'm certainly not 100% but what I have changed is making a lot of difference in my health. Besides, getting nutrients from "real" foods taste so much better anyway!!! - 9/2/2010   10:24:29 AM
  • 12
    Isn't it pathetic? They spend millions of dollars on research to come up with "stuff" we don't want, shouldn't eat and wouldn't, if we knew what they were "up" too. Why not use real things that we can understand and feel good about putting into our bodies. We'd feel better, in more ways than one, and they'd spend less money, or at least that's the way I see it. Food would be cheaper too, or I think it might be. - 9/2/2010   9:41:40 AM
  • 11
    Thanks so much for this information! I stay away from processsed food as much as possible for health reasons, but I would probably think that chicory extract is natural (love that New Orleans coffee!). The more I learn, the less I like eating food made in a factory. - 9/2/2010   9:22:29 AM
  • 10
    I try to just eat as much real food as possible because I don't trust the food companies and their artificial products. - 9/2/2010   9:09:38 AM
  • 9
    It's sad that the food industry is so corrupt that someone can't walk into a grocery store and not worry what the food they buy is going to do to them. - 9/2/2010   9:05:45 AM
    I find all this confusing. This also seems like rube goldberg effort by manufacturers to avoid grains - why not just use the natural stuff? For the consumer, maybe the answer is to just limit consumption of stuff that comes out of a box. - 9/2/2010   8:49:55 AM
  • 7
    Good rule of thumb: if you don't recognize the ingredients without doing research, don't buy! You're just piling on the pre-processed junk.

    Real fiber, please. - 9/2/2010   8:31:00 AM
  • 6
    This just reaffirms by belief that we should avoid processed foods as much as possible. Unfortunately, in this fast-paced world, it is nearly impossible to completely avoid processed foods. - 9/2/2010   8:27:47 AM
  • 5
    Yeah, I am also confused. So, are you saying Benifiber is one of the "worse for you" ones over Metamucil? I don't often take a fiber supplement, because I eat a very whole food diet and rarely need it. But, I have needed some help lately because of a stomach issue and spent 45 minutes in the fiber aisle of Target trying to figure out what I should get. They didn't have the pink lemonade Metamucil (which is the only flavor of Metamucil I like), so I went with Benifiber. (also, the last time I had this problem, I was visiting my folks and they had Benifiber and it helped...so...) Was this the wrong choice?

    I guess what I am saying, is while all the information is nice, I also would have liked a "if you do need a fiber supplement" recommendation. Even if you don't want to be brand specific, saying something like psyllium husk is better than wheat dextrin would be helpful. - 9/2/2010   7:54:06 AM
  • 4
    I'm confused. Okay, we know that all-natural anything is better for you, but is there anything actually BAD for you about manufactured fiber? I'd just as soon not have to worry about scrutinizing my food labels for yet another thing. - 9/2/2010   7:24:48 AM
    I really think its better to go for the real, natural, not messed with fibre. I don't think manufactured fibre is as popular in the UK - aside from some fibre drink type things being promoted.

    I think the natural stuff is better for two reasons - first is that when its manufactured and added to stuff its probably trying to make a product high in sugar, sodium or fat (or 2 or all of these) seem more healthy. The second is that it seems to me that natural fibre just has to be better for you. Much like dieticians are always telling us vitamins from natural sources are better than supplements. - 9/2/2010   7:18:41 AM

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