[What do you think of] the Western Alternative Bagel?
-- Anonymous (via the blog)
To those of you who have never heard of it, the Western alternative bagel is developed by California-based chain Western Bagel.
Each two-ounce bagel clocks in at 110 calories and contais 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.
Here's the mystery, though. Look at the ingredient list: Enriched unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, wheat gluten, corn starch, inulin, oat fiber. May contain 2% or less of: calcium sulfate, enzymes, l-cysteine, salt, yeast, calcium propionate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial flavor, sucralose.
Whole wheat flour is nowhere to be found.
Sure, oat fiber is present, but towards the end. Certainly not in a sufficient quantity to result in seven grams of fiber.
So...how do they do it?
Allow me to introduce you to inulin.
Also known as chicory root, it is a natural fiber (and prebiotic!) found in asparagus, onions, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.
Some of you may have heard the term 'prebiotic' before but are not sure what it means.
In essence, when we consume inulin, the bacteria in our digestive system digests it and forms fructooligosaccharides, which in turn increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our colon.
The higher our beneficial bacteria count, the healthier our intestinal tract.
Food manufacturers love inulin, since it can replaces fat, whole wheat flour, and sugar while still giving baked goods a soft texture and and pleasant mouthfeel.
From a health standpoint, it contains the same benefits as other fibers -- longer-lasting satiety, regularity, and increased stool bulk.
Additionally, it does not raise blood-glucose levels , so it is deemed safe for diabetics.
In The Netherlands, inulin has been given an official stamp of approval. Products containing this fiber can legally be advertised as "promoting well-balanced intestinal [intestinal] flora composition."
It gets better! A 2006 Brazilian study published in renowned journal Nutrition Research found that inulin helps increase calcium and magnesium absorption.
Any drawbacks? Two I can think of.
First, consuming large amounts of inulin (especially if you are not accustomed to it) can result in flatulence and mild stomach pains.
Additionally, although inulin has its nutritional advantages, it is missing most of the goodness found in whole grains.
A bagel made with refined grains and inulin is definitely a better option than a fiberless one made solely with white flour.
However, whole grains are more than just fiber. They are an exclusive mix of phytonutrients, plant sterols, and antioxidants with their own health-boosting properties.
I don't think of inulin (while helpful and beneficial in its own right) as a true substitute for a 100% whole grain product.