In much the same way that the yogurt industry has focused on probiotics, the packaged snack food business has begun to focus on fiber. If you've ever been curious enough to read the ingredient label on your Fiber One bar, you probably expected to find oats listed as the main ingredient and fiber source -- instead, you found chicory. Though you may be unfamiliar with it, chicory root is the additive that allows you to have your chocolate and your fiber, too.
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Chicory is a wildflower, or more specifically, a gangly, spindly bush that grows by the roadside and in livestock pastures. The small blue flowers are sometimes gathered as a salad addition, and the roots can be dried and ground to be used as a coffee substitute. New Orleans cuisine is known for coffee flavored with chicory root. Chicory has found a new calling in the new millennium as sales of fiber-rich processed foods have skyrocketed -- as a food additive, it is responsible for the gimmick behind these snacks.
Fiber One Bars
Fiber One bars are marketed as a way to get your daily intake of fiber without realizing it. Available in a variety of flavors, the chewy granola bars are formulated to taste more like candy -- chocolate chips are the second ingredient in the Oats & Chocolate flavor. The first ingredient, however, is chicory root extract. Chicory root adds a fiber boost without affecting the flavor of the bar -- before the use of chicory, the only option would be to add psyllium or a similar gritty bulk fiber. By extracting the valuable properties of the chicory root, manufacturers can add fiber without adding vegetable matter, producing a relatively low-calorie bar with 9 grams of fiber.
Many people prefer to avoid foods with additives, but that is impractical and unlikely with packaged convenience foods. A report in the July 1999 issue of "The Journal of Nutrition" said that chicory, also known as inulin, has been proven safe with high-dose tests and has been generally recognized as safe by food authorities throughout the world. The report did mention, however, that some people experience intestinal discomfort at high doses, but the exact dose varies by person and by which food supplied the chicory root.
Women need 26 grams of fiber daily, and men need 38 grams per day. Fiber One bars should not be your only source of fiber because that would add an extra 435 calories to your calorie intake and expose you to high levels of chicory that could cause discomfort. Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are preferred fiber sources, but Fiber One bars can replace a less-healthy snack. A 2002 report in the "Journal of Biosciences" found that the fiber from chicory root is as effective at maintaining digestive and immune system health and lowering cholesterol levels as the fiber found in whole foods, so your favorite Fiber One bar can be your candy fix for the day while helping you meet your recommended fiber intake.