Editorial: ‘Stealthy’ isn’t always healthy

By Staff Editorial

Industry take note: Stealthy fighter jets might be worth the investment, but stealthy fiber is… Industry take note: Stealthy fighter jets might be worth the investment, but stealthy fiber is not.

Trying to satisfy a burgeoning demand for foods with fewer calories and greater nutritional value, food manufacturers are adding “stealth fiber” to their products, according to Reuters Health. While marketed to the public as high in fiber and consequently as a healthy diet choice, foods containing this additive commonly cause indigestion — and consumers shouldn’t let their GI tracts be misled.

This “stealth fiber,” or inulin, is a complex carbohydrate existing naturally in bananas, wheat and other foods, but since it’s found in high concentrations in the chicory root, industries can extract the inulin and use it in processed foods. Labeled as chicory root extract, oligosaccharide or oligofructose, the inulin additive has sneakily crept its way into everyday foods, especially meal-replacement food bars.

And inulin’s creeping around has not advanced the collective quest for a healthier diet. Cargill, Inc. conducted a study of 26 men and women and found just 5 grams of one inulin form and 10 grams of another could cause serious gastrointestinal problems — like gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation — to germinate within the participants’ bellies. The wrapper might be pretty, but not the ending.

Most people would agree with the thought that a healthy diet is a good idea. The issue here is whether they choose to act on their answer and, of course, how they act. Making processed food a dietary staple has never been a proper way to act. Not before and, although some “high fiber” labels would like you to believe otherwise, not now.

Nutritionists have for years preached that adding natural forms of fiber to your diet, like whole grain breads and pasta, helps speed along the digestion process. So consumers are taught to equate high fiber with nutritious and nutritious with “I better buy more of that stuff.”

Calling inulin-infused foods “nutrient-enriched” falls short of false advertising — “high fiber” means something totally different than “healthier” — but it comes awfully close. The fact is such marketing practices mislead the honest consumer, someone who’s clearly trying to improve his dietary habits.

And with a scourge of obesity and diet-related health problems sweeping the country and driving up health care costs, the country can’t spare a single one of these consumers who wake up and decide, “Yes, I will stop the rhetoric and start eating healthier.”