Monday, February 7, 2011

Better Living Through Chemistry?

There is a story in the December 6, 2010 issue of Chemical & Engineering News entitled "New Fibers for Foods". (I wish I could post a link to the online article, but it is not free.) It addresses the need for fiber in a diet, some historical sources of soluble and insoluble fiber and their health benefits, and then moves on to the way that food researchers and manufacturers are developing artificial starches which cannot be digested, thus mimicking fiber.

Needless to say, I'm against it. Why go to all the trouble making chemically-enhanced ingredients, thus adding a new level of processing to processed food and potentially causing unfortunate interactions with the body (remember the highly-publicized side effects of Olestra?) when people can just eat real food?

Of course, it's the real food portion of the concept that modern humans are apparently against. The article states, "Many people have trouble adjusting to the taste, texture, and color of a whole-grain, high-fiber pasta, for example." Also, "People do not consume enough fruits and vegetables to do it [meet dietary fiber needs] alone, and for that matter, agriculture can't produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the need."

Addressing the second issue first, fruits and vegetables are not the only sources of dietary fiber out there. It's important to have a balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes to both get adequate vitamins & minerals and cover the spectrum of soluble & insoluble fiber. An issue with agricultural production is not that the capacity is so limited, but that it's not well-distributed. Everything I read says that agriculture produces enough calories to feed everyone, but the grain in silos in the United States is not going to help someone starving in Sierra Leone, for instance. Also, there's a lot that could be done if the extensive fields of corn & soybeans across the US used as animal feed were converted to polyculture fields for vegetarian human foods.

As for the issue of the average person not liking whole-grain pasta, well, I think they're just going to have to suck it up. Do what's good for you. Retrain your palate. Don't expect technology to cater to your every whim.

As for me, I'm off to eat some bean-filled chili on top of a baked sweet potato with a side of mandarin orange. Fiberlicious!

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