There’s something fishy going on when it comes to food labeling these days, and it has to do with fiber. Until very recently, ‘fiber’ was defined as ‘indigestible carbohydrate’, which had no caloric value because the human body does not produce enzymes to digest cellulose—the main type of insoluble fibre in grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Nowadays, some of what they are calling ‘fiber’ is actually sugar.
Food processors are now allowed to re-classify calorie-containing sugars called oligosaccharides as “fiber”. What? Take, for example, the ultra-successful Smart Sweets. The label boasts just 3 grams of sugar per package. Yet the Nutrition Information panel shows 40 grams of total carbohydrates, 17 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of sugar. By conventional nutritional calculations, the package should therefore contain 160 calories. However, it lists total calories as just 130. What’s going on here?
It turns out there are special considerations for fibers known as oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides such as FOS, GOS, IMOs and others are complex sugars. They’re found in Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, asparagus and many other foods. Purported benefits of oligosaccharides include: the fostering of beneficial gut flora, and slower absorption of simpler carbohydrates—suggesting they are generally a safer choice for diabetics.
It turns out there is a new equation to calculate IMOs. Since they can be digested by our gut flora, some of the sugar components CAN be absorbed and used as energy by the body. That’s why the rules stipulate that half the fiber content coming from IMOs must be treated like it is a digestible carbohydrate—because it has caloric value. Specifically, 50 percent of the IMOs contained in a product must be calculated as if they were sugars. Don’t be fooled; they ARE sugars that can be used as an energy source by you, adding to your total carbohydrate intake. But because they feed gut flora, they are allowed to be called ‘fiber’. Does that make sense to you?
By the way: oligosaccharides like IMOs are food for the undesirable gut flora, too—including the kinds that cause bothersome symptoms in many people with IBS. That’s probably why the FODMAPS diet excludes all foods that contain FOS, IMOs, and their cousins.
The moral of the story is, don’t be fooled by the “face” of a processed food. Read ALL the nutrition information, and remember the exceptions that are given to food processors are designed to sell their products and are not in your best interest.
Here’s another example: in Canada, a processed food is allowed to claim ‘zero trans fats’ per serving if the product contains less than 1 gram of trans fats per serving! Remember; 0.9 grams is pretty close to 1 gram. Who eats just one serving, anyway?)
So if you were under the impression that a bag of what looks like candy isn’t actually candy just because it claims just 3 grams of sugar per serving, I hope this convinces you otherwise.