Dietary vs. Functional Fiber

If you have ever eaten fruit, vegetables, or grains, your body has digested a type of nutrient known has fiber. But what exactly is that? First, it should be made known that fiber is arguably the least understood nutrient that goes into your body, and it is only in recent years that research by the Institute of Medicine has been completed in trying to understand what it does.

According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest, but is associated with lowered risk of certain conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, diverticular disease, and constipation. Unlike most carbohydrates, fiber does not break down into sugar molecules, but instead goes through the body and helps regulate the use of the sugars, therefore helping to control hunger and blood sugar.

Most importantly, fiber can be found naturally in foods, but can also be synthetically produced. This brings up the question of whether you should consume the fiber that is produced naturally or synthetically. While the answer is not clear cut, there are several reasons why natural fiber is the better option.

To begin with, natural fiber (also called dietary fiber) is found in plant-based foods such vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and seeds. As opposed to synthetic fiber (also called functional fiber), dietary fiber is so much more readily available for consumption. Functional fiber can only be found in supplements or is injected into certain foods to enhance fiber content. Being readily available in common foods means that dietary fiber has the advantage.

Dietary fiber being found naturally in common foods holds another advantage over functional fiber: consumers of those foods will also digest other nutrients needed for the body, such as important proteins or carbohydrates. Unless functional fiber is injected into these same foods as additives, consumption of functional fiber will not provide this benefit.

While both dietary and functional fiber both have certain benefits, functional fiber comes from isolated or extracted non-digestible carbohydrates. Looking at the Institute of Medicine research again, the fiber is “isolated or extracted using chemical, enzymatic, or aqueous steps.” A common example of a functional fiber created using these processes would be polydextrose, a fiber-containing molecule found in some cereals and synthesized from glucose and sorbitol, another carbohydrate. The only thing missing from these synthesized molecules is lignin, which is found in the dietary fibers. Lignin is indigestible so it helps fight constipation, and then is degraded by certain bacteria in the digestive tract. So while both kinds of fibers have similar benefits, functional fiber is lacking because it does not have the lignin that is beneficial as well.

These reasons show that dietary fiber is better your health, yet a major problem arises with the consumption of this fiber. Remember how fiber has a reputation for being hard to understand? This complexity leads to the fact that when fiber is reported on FDA food labels, functional fiber and dietary fiber are added together to get total fiber content. These labels do not differentiate between how much of each kind is in the food, and instead only gives the total amount.

This can be problematic because the FDA is allowing polydextrose and other functional fibers to be labeled as dietary fibers. There is a level of deception that goes on at this point, and the director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., Bonnie Liebman explains:

“Companies are putting fiber into foods like cookies and ice cream and making people think these are healthy foods, when in fact they should be eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It’s dressing up junk food and health food. We have no idea if polydextrose has the same benefits as bran. It’s deceptive.”

Basically, in foods that should be free of functional fiber, and have only dietary fiber, may instead have some, and the consumer could think that the food is healthier than it actually is. Some advice, then: just stick with natural foods that are known to have dietary fiber. Stay away from any foods with fiber additives or supplements because you never know what you might get.

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Chemistry (and Presentation) Matters!

I had the opportunity to listen to several presentations from fellow students at the Chemistry Matters Symposium last week. There were many great topics that were presented on, but I will discuss the three presentations that I have ranked the highest. All three have something in common that made them great presentations: they engaged the audience and brought out the audience members’ critical listening skills.

The third-ranked presentation was entitled “Artistic Chemistry”. I have it ranked here because while the topic had the potential to be boring to most everyone but art majors, the presenter kept the audience engaged with simple, yet complete, explanations for how redox reactions occur with rust on metal, as well as on stained glass. It left the audience feeling like they could create art using redox reactions too.

The second-ranked presentation, “The ‘New Alchemy'” is ranked here because the presenter was very exciting and knowledgeable about his topic, which involved discussion over the history of the universe with a transition into radioactivity and the existence of uranium and further elements on the periodic table. What could’ve been a boring history and chemistry lesson was the complete opposite because the presenter’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his opinion on unknowns created an environment that beckoned the audience closer.

The top-ranked presentation, “Retiring Old Tires” is ranked number one because the presenter had the best delivery out of any of the presentations. Although the title may suggest that it would be a very dull topic, the presenter made the audience laugh with witty remarks and near-sarcastic attitude that made the topic a lot more fun to learn about. During the presentation, but not during the Q&A session at the end, the presenter talked to and interacted with the audience to get a response and some laughs.

Each presentation was great and highly ranked because of their interaction and engagement with the audience, despite presenting topics that weren’t so appealing to the entire audience. Whether voluntarily or not, members of the audience were encouraged to use critical listening skills to understand what is being said, and come up with their own conclusions using the information given to them.

According to skillsyouneed.com, critical listening is described as the ability to evaluate or scrutinize what is being said, and usually requires problem-solving or decision-making. In all three of these presentations, one had to actively think about the argument or problem being examined. For example, in “The ‘New Alchemy'” presentation, the audience was encouraged to express their views over the beginning of the universe, e.g. The Big Bang Theory, alternates universes, etc., but because the presentation was short, the debate was not fully covered.

Using critical listening skills, one can gleam useful information about the current topic. However, critically listening to great presentations like those mentioned can help one pick up certain positive aspects of the presentation that can be duplicated in one’s future presentations. For example, if you recognize that an audience is buying in to the topic, be conscious of what it making them buy into it. Is it jokes, questions, or remarks made by the presenter? Or is it their enthusiasm and emotion that captures the audience? Whatever it is, remember what made they did that was great to make yourself a better presenter in the future!

Are “Chemical-Free” Fruits Really Chemical-Free?

When people go to the supermarket to pick up fresh fruit, they might be looking for apples or oranges with labels such as “chemical-free” or “no chemicals were used in the making of this product”.  This is all well and good, as some people prefer to buy and eat fruit that hasn’t been altered or affected by any outside substance. In addition, a seller looking to sell the fruit is marketing the product as chemical-free because the product itself should have no harmful substances such as pesticides, as well as no growth hormones and the like that allow to fruit to be tastier, bigger, juicer, etc.

However, this could be called false advertising on the seller’s part because they are, whether knowingly or unknowingly, manipulating the fruit buyers into thinking their fruit is free of all chemicals, when this is not true. Interestingly, it is possible that the seller isn’t completely at fault.

The buyers themselves may share the blame for no other reason than they are misinformed. Buyers that look for those products usually have the wrong idea as to what “chemical-free” actually means. According to this page, the definition of a chemical is “…whether created in a lab or produced by nature, a compound of various elements held together by chemical bonds, these compounds exist everywhere and the existence of some objects and even life on earth would be impossible without them.”

So what does this mean? For starters, it disproves any claims that the fruits being sold are “chemical-free”. Why? Since a compound consists of more than one element held by bonds, and can be produced by nature, it makes sense that fruits have all sorts of chemicals in them. For example, sucrose is a sugar produced naturally by a fruit, and one molecule has the chemical formula of C6H12O6.  Sucrose is, in fact, according to this definition, a chemical.

Now because sucrose is a chemical, the “chemical-free” labels on the fruit are definitely wrong. But why do fruit sellers advertise their product as such? For one, they know people will buy them if people want perceived “chemical-free” fruit. Therefore, it is important that potential fruit buyers know what exactly “chemical-free” entails, and the first step is reading articles about the subject or informed blogs such as this one.

Furthermore, it is important to note that in the United States, the words “chemical-free” are not allowed to be on a food label. According to this food information encyclopedia, which gets its information from the USDA website, the term “chemical-free” is not allowed to be used on a label. Other places in the world might not have these kinds of restrictions, especially common fruit markets in Africa or Southeast Asia.

While a fruit labeled “chemical-free” may look like a really good option, consider what the seller truly wants you to think before you buy it. Generally, the seller means that the fruit was grown without the use of potentially harmful or toxic substances like pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones, and if this is what you are looking for, go ahead and buy the fruit. Although, the best labels for these kinds of products would be “all-natural” or “all-organic” because that implies the fruit was definitely not treated with a synthesized compound, and would be a more accurate label than “chemical-free”.

Now the next time you go to a fruit market, you know what to look out for!

Label courtesy of http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2014/04/01/the-advance-of-the-chemical-free-sciences/
Label courtesy of http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2014/04/01/the-advance-of-the-chemical-free-sciences/

About Me

My name is Bradley Baker, and I am currently a sophomore at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. My hometown is Paducah in far-western KY. I am currently undecided as to what my major is going to be, but I am aiming somewhere in the math/science departments. My hobbies include swimming on the Centre Swim and Dive team, running, snow skiing, watching the St. Louis Cardinals, Nashville Predators, and the University of Kentucky basketball team.