My gym is currently handing out free samples of something called Benefiber. Sounds healthy, right? It’s got the word fiber in it and it even has the first part of the word beneficial in there too! Fantastic… (Also doesn’t sound much like real food, does it? This is a food-like substance.) What is Benefiber? The label tells us it’s a fiber supplement, and that it “Makes Taking Fiber Easier.” It’s a flavored sugar-free powder that comes in a small packet that’s emptied into a container of water, mixed, and drunk. For your troubles, you’ll get a whopping three grams of fiber for only 15 calories. Flavors include: kiwi strawberry, raspberry tea, citrus punch, cherry pomegranate, or unflavored.
So miracle of miracles, we have a fruit-flavored source of fiber that we can drink–thereby eliminating the titanic burden of actually eating a piece of fruit. We can now rest easier. (If this doesn’t yet sound a little koo-koo to you, then you might want to move along and find something else to occupy your time.)
Let’s back up just a little and figure out why we might be concerned with fiber at all. It’s fairly well known that food high in fiber helps confer good health. Fiber’s health benefits include the following: helps control blood sugar levels which probably reduces the risk of diabetes, reduces risk of heart disease, facilitates a healthy digestive tract, and fiber probably helps regulate the appetite. Nice stuff this fiber.
So Benefiber must be good for us right? What else is in this stuff? Well, that’s what’s really interesting. There are 11 ingredients, most of which are almost unpronounceable. They’re probably nothing you could cook up in your kitchen or reach for in your pantry. (Anyone ever brew up a hearty batch of acesulfame potassium?) These things are remarkably complex substances that were built by people in laboratories. This stuff is not found in food. Other animals don’t eat these things. I wonder how much time, effort, electricity and money went into concocting these magical items?
Look at the fourth ingredient, aspartame. It has two asterisks next to it. Down below the ingredient list in menacing bold print is PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE. Good lord what does that mean? I think we’re being warned. The issues associated with aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are more than I can go into here, but the point is there are more than a few concerns about the safety of these things. All this for three grams of fiber.
This seems like a product sold by Monty Python. Good nutrition in a powder is silly!
Meanwhile, I could eat actual cherries, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, or any number of other fruits and/or vegetables–real food in other words–and get the same amount of fiber plus untold amounts of various healthy molecules and none of the weird science-fiction chemicals. This whole thing seems absurd. It might be one part health to four parts poison. What are we doing here?