One danger of forward-dating posts is that between the point when you write it and when you post it, something hits the news that changes the reader’s perception of everything. Seriously, what are the odds that in the week in between my writing of a post involving fiber and it’s scheduled posting, that fiber would be in the news? Particularly the exact kind of fiber involved in the post?
Slate has an buyer-beware article on faux-fibers such as polydextrose and inulin. These don’t constitute real fiber, Jacob Gershman says, and Megan McArdle agrees. The implication, of course, is that people reading this need to go eat raw roots, nuts, and berries if they want to be healthy.
Unfortunately, I think this attitude has precisely the opposite effect. Instead of telling people what the true and good things to eat are, they sort of lead us to throw our hands in the air and say “What’s the point?” It’s sort of like that guy that, whenever you say so-and-so is bad, points to the alternative and says “that’s bad, too!” And we sort of end in this no-man’s land of nutritional post-modernism wherein whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Boiled roots and steamed beans are good for you. No one really contests that. And I get it. I get the notion that as long as I’m not eating things that I have no use for, I am a dietary sinner. I might as well be eating pig lard covered in triple-refined sugar.
One of the problems I have with the medical establishment in general is that they often have the perfect tendency to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I tell my phys ed coach that I’m drinking orange juice, and I’m warned about the sugar. People get excited by new games and game systems like DDR and the Wii that encourage exercise and they go out of their way to say that the exercise isn’t as good as the exercise you might get on the treadmill. I half-expect them to complain that the treadmill isn’t as good as jogging, which isn’t as good as carrying logs, which isn’t as good as pushing boulders in persuit of building a cave.
The problem I have with this is that for most people, the alternative to natural orange juice is not prune juice, it’s Sunny Delight or Mountain Dew Livewire. The alternative to the Wii is the XBox. The alternative fake fiber is not a breakfast of… I actually don’t know of any breakfast that they haven’t told us is killing us at some point in the last ten years. Eggs, bacon, oats, orange juice. Maybe a pear and a grass salad is okay. Or eggs, if you strip it of the part that tastes good and don’t add anything to add taste (cause it probably contains sodium, which as well all know will kill you).
The more personal problem I have with it is that more than any other product I can think of, the one thing that has helped my life more than any other is the fake fiber discussed in this article.
When I moved to Cascadia, I made only one conscious dietary decision: to eat more fiber. I decided to do this with fiber-enriched FiberONE cereal. FiberONE contains inulin, which is discussed in the Slate article. Since making that decision, I have lost 35 pounds.
I drink three or four cokes a day. I eat McDonald’s for breakfast once a week. Donuts once a week. If I really want a burger or a couple pieces of pizza, I eat it. I put cheese in the canned pasta I not-infrequently have for dinner. I have not once said “That’s unhealthy. I shouldn’t eat that.” But the weight nonetheless came off.
It would be silly to attribute it all to the cereal. But what happened was the cereal replaced the far, far less healthy breakfasts that I had been eating. It got me to stop skipping The Most Important Meal of the Day. It kept my bowels regular. It suppressed my appetite. It got me started on the right foot. So when it came to lunch, unless I actively wanted something unhealthy, I would continue the trend that I set myself in the morning and get a boca burger. Since I’m less hungry (or have been hungry for less time), I’ll eat less.
If I had read this article before I’d made that decision, I never would have started eating the cereal. I mean, what’s the point? It’s not real fiber. You might get the impression reading the article that there was nothing worthwhile in the product at all. A waste of time. I might as well be eating at McDonald’s.
McArdle makes the comment that the FDA should release a statement saying “If it tastes that good, it isn’t good for you.”
In some people’s minds, it’s as though something tasting good is immaterial. Or that, if they really tried, they’d learn to like brussel sprouts. Maybe, if raised on it, they would.
But things like taste and convenience matter. They matter a great deal. Because without it, people will not continue to eat it. They will likely default to something far, far less healthy. If putting a cheese on a veggie burger makes me like it, it’s worth the added fat because it means that I will have liked my veggie burger and will eat it again. Struggling with no cheese or soy cheese may be acceptable, but it won’t have me coming back for more. That double cheese-burger, which I know will satisfy me, will call to me evermore loudly.
Granted, I am fortunate in that if I do the right things (and even some of the wrong ones), I will lose weight. I recognize that others don’t have it so easy. For whatever reason, they have to sacrifice a lot more to get a lot less loss in return. So for them, maybe these articles are worthwhile if they wonder why their high-“fiber” breakfast isn’t doing the trick.
But I think that a large part of the problem with obesity in this country has less to do with too many people thinking that faux-fiber is actual fiber and a lot more to do with being made to feel guilty any time they eat something that they didn’t pluck from the ground themselves. Diets are notorious for being short-lived and ultimately resulting in weight gain. They tell us that we need to not just go on a diet, but change our lifestyle. But anything convenient or tasty is off-limits.
That’s a recipe for failure.
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