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    Archive for the ‘fiber pills’ Category

    Intern On A Mission!

    190154-1Over the past few months, University of Nebraska Lincoln freshman Laura Smith has been of tremendous help to me as the first-ever Small Bites intern.

    A few weeks ago, I asked her to visit one or two vitamin stores in her city, assume the role of a regular customer, and ask sales representatives at these stores what they would recommend for her now that “she is under doctor’s orders” to eat more fiber and improve her cholesterol levels (FYI: she isn’t really, I just concocted that).

    Here is what Laura was told at a store called Complete Nutrition (in her words):

    I was told to take a multivitamin, as this will help improve nutrients and my cholesterol level.  I was also told to take Tone, a product that “attacks stubborn fat by shrinking fat cells while maintaining existing lean muscle”.  According to the salesperson, Tone has been clinically tested to support fat loss while maintaining normal cholesterol levels and promoting healthy heart functions. The key ingredients are CLA, Omega 3 fatty acids, and GLA.  I was also told to make sure to take protein.

    Sigh.  Wow.  Deep sigh.  Okay.

    If someone were to ask my recommendations to follow these “doctor’s orders”, I would say:

    • Increase soluble fiber intake by consuming oatmeal/oat-based cereals/oat bran, beans (especially kidney beans), nuts, psyllium husks (adding one tablespoon to a smoothie), fruits, and vegetables.
    • Lower intake of full-fat dairy and red meat
    • Prioritize foods with healthier fats (ie: add 1 Tablespoon ground flax to cereal, soup, or smoothie; replace cheese in sandwich with avocado, etc.)

    Let’s analyze Complete Nutrition’s advice:

    1. “Take a multivitamin”: Completely irrelevant within the scope of cholesterol management.
    2. “Take Tone”: I love the notion of products attacking “stubborn fat”, as if there were some type of special fat that simply did not respond to food.  While the presence of omega-3s in this product is helpful, this customer would be better off eating food that offers omega-3 fatty acids and fiber simultaneously (i.e.: walnuts, ground flax).  They would save money, too!
    3. “Make sure you get protein”.  Also irrelevant from a cholesterol management standpoint.  As I have said many times on Small Bites, no one in the United States needs to worry about not consuming enough protein.  The average adult — without even trying — consumes approximately two and a half times their daily requirement.

    Here is what Laura was told at GNC:

    They told me to take fish oil, either a triple strength variety once a day, or a normal strength three times a day. They also told me to take a fiber supplement, either in a chewable or pill form.

    While not ideal (my rule is “food first, then supplements”) this at least focuses on the right nutrients — healthier fats and fiber.  I understand, though, that GNC has products to sell and can’t be expected to suggest skipping their products and heading to the grocery store instead.

    And, truth be told, I often recommend omega-3 supplementation to people who do not consume sufficient amounts of fish or sea vegetables each week to cover their needs.  In my book, omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation are two things almost everyone should be doing.

    It’s more the fiber supplement advice that I find comical.  Most fiber supplements add 4 to 6 grams of fiber to your day, the same amount you can get from an apple or a medium banana or a half cup of lentils.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fiber Supplements

    citrucel_capletsWhat is, in your opinion, the healthiest fiber supplement?

    I have used psyllium husks for a long time in smoothies but have recently switched to Citrucel because of the delightful taste (it’s just like tang) and convenience.

    This is somewhat of a contridiction for me because I have made it a habit to avoid beverages high in sugar like soda and ice tea, and I’m concerned about the sugar content in Citrucel.

    Is it relatively high for a fiber supplement? Is it the equivalent of drinking a unhealthy ice tea mix or soda?

    Also, what are your thoughts on those Viactiv chocolate calcium chews?

    Jessica (last name withheld)
    San Antonio, TX

    Citrucel — “the fiber with no excess gas” — contains 100% soluble fiber.

    Remember, that is the type of fiber helpful for lowering cholesterol and achieving a feeling of fullness more quickly; insoluble fiber helps speed things up through the digestive system.  We need both types.

    Whole wheat breads are 100% insoluble fiber; oatmeal is 100% soluble fiber, and all other foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, etc.) are a combination of the two.

    Citrucel contains two grams of soluble fiber per scoop — roughly the same amount offered by one apple.

    Citrucel also tacks on roughly 4 and a half teaspoons of sugar per scoop.  So, two scoops equal the amount of sugar in one 12-ounce soda can.

    My main “issue” with fiber supplements is that while they provide actual fiber, their health benefits are much lower in comparison to fiber-rich foods.

    With something like Citrucel, you are getting fiber and nothing else.  With an apple, or oatmeal, or almonds, or a baked potato, you are getting fiber along with hundreds of health-promoting phytonutrients.

    So, in terms of which is the healthiest fiber supplement, my answer is: “food”.

    A half cup of raspberries, for example, packs in 4 grams of fiber and just 32 calories.  That’s twice the amount of one Citrucel scoop and HALF the calories.  As a sweet bonus, you get vitamins and loads of phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    A medium-sized banana contains, on average, 3 grams.  And, by simply making a sandwich with 100% whole grain bread, you add six grams to your day.

    There is a notion that fiber is hard to get in one’s diet, but it is widely available — in lots of different foods.  Here’s another example:  a cup of black beans adds 15 grams to  whatever recipe you are making (stew, chili, salad, etc.)

    If you like to make your own shakes/smoothies at home, one way to quickly and conveniently add fiber is to add a tablespoon of flaxseed and a tablespoon of wheat germ.  You won’t notice any difference in taste and those two tablespoons add 4 grams of fiber.

    By the way — this notion that Citrucel is superior because it provides fiber without gas is slightly misleading.

    Gastrointestinal operations vary from person to person; in that way, they are very much like snowflakes.  No two are alike.  However, there are two main factors that cause gassiness with increased fiber intake:

    1. Increasing fiber too soon (i.e.: someone who normally consumes 12 grams of fiber a day waking up one morning and starting off their day with 14 grams of fiber via a high-fiber cereal).
    2. Increasing fiber without increasing fluid intake

    As long as you increase fiber intake slowly (think tacking on two grams a day until you reach your desired goal) and accompany it with increased fluid intake, you should be able to minimize bloating and gassiness.

    As for the Viactiv tablets — the ingredient list is semi-sketchy (high fructose corn syrup AND partially hydrogenated oils!), but it is a low-calorie, low-sugar product.

    Is it the ideal way to get calcium?  Absolutely not.  I mean, really, if supplementing is the ultimate goal, is a regular calcium tablet that horrible to swallow?

    However, when push comes to shove, Viactiv is at least a way to get significant amounts of calcium.

    The problem is that so many people tend to focus on ONE nutrient and forget that by eating whole foods high in one nutrient, they would get more “bang for their buck.”

    Case in point — a calcium pill is just calcium.  Kale (a leafy green vegetable high in calcium) is also a source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.  Similarly, a cup of yogurt provides calcium along with protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, and potassium.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fiber

    The release of a Small Bites issue is often followed by reader questions sent in via e-mail.

    Since I decided to keep each edition solely focused on the article at hand, I now have several never-before-published (tantalizing!) reader questions.

    The following (along with my answers, of course) are all in reference to the premiere issue on fiber.

    You mention whole grain breads being good sources of fiber. What about multi-grain breads?

    Multi-grain breads sure have good PR! Their healthy-sounding name makes them seem like nutrition superstars, but in reality, they leave a lot to be desired. All multi-grain really means is that a bread is made up of several different grains (i.e.: wheat, barley and oats).

    Unfortunately, the vast majority are but a mere combination of heavily refined (and therefore, fiber-free) grains. Just because a loaf of bread is sprinkled with sunflower seeds and soy dust does not make it a healthy choice.

    If you are looking to get fiber from commercial breads, go for ones whose first ingredient is “100% whole (insert grain here) flour”.

    Finding whole grain breads at restaurants is difficult, unless you are going to establishments that are centered around healthy eating. Otherwise, prepare for waiters who think that “wheat” and “whole wheat” bread are the same thing (they aren’t; wheat bread is white bread with food coloring, whereas whole wheat bread is the fiber all-star).

    I didn’t know fruits contained a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber. Do some fruits have more of one type than another?

    Not really. Most fruits’ fiber breakdown ends up as half insoluble and half soluble. However, most insoluble fiber is found on skins, whereas soluble fiber is in the actual fruit.

    This is why I highly recommend thoroughly washing fruits with edible skins and taking a bite. Don’t commit a nutrition crime; put the knife down and let the apple keep its skin!

    If the goal is to get more fiber, why not just take a few Metamucil pills each day?

    Do you also ask your dentist, “if the goal is to have a brighter smile, why not just whiten my teeth once a month instead of brushing them every day?”

    Not only do Metamucil pills turn fiber into a “foreign thing I force down with water”, they also lack the benefits of fiber-rich foods — nutrients! Foods high in fiber offer plenty of vitamins and minerals, which you absolutely can not get from a fiber supplement.

    Besides, why gobble down a capsule when you can get your fiber in the taste of chickpeas, raspberries, or oatmeal?

    The other day at the supermarket I saw Teddy Grahams made with whole grains. The box even mentioned “5 grams of fiber per serving”. Does that mean Teddy Grahams have more fiber than an apple?

    Those food companies sure are smart. The more they confuse you, the better off they are.

    What you saw was indeed Teddy Grahams made with whole grains. Can you catch the misleading statement?

    Some people may read that and think, “a healthy cookie,” when it could simply mean that whole grain flour makes up one percent of each cookie (literally making the product one “made WITH whole grains” as opposed to “a whole-grain product”).

    As for the “5 grams of fiber per serving”, what you actually read was “5 grams of whole grains per serving”.

    One gram of whole grains is NOT equal to one gram of fiber. We should ideally be getting at least 48 grams of whole grains a day, but nobody thinks on these terms because food labels don’t provide this information.

    This is just Nabisco attemping to confuse consumers while making a nutritionally empty product seem like a healthy choice.

    The only factor you need to be thinking about is grams of fiber (you ideally want anywhere between 35 and 50 grams a day).

    And, trust me, if you’re looking to get your fiber fix from a box of Teddy Grahams, you’re in deeper trouble than you think.


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