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Fabulous Forum Question About Fiber: If It’s Not Digested, Then Why Count The Calories Or Carbs In It?

Posted May 28 2009 11:44pm

Do fiber calories and carbs from foods like broccoli count?

If you are looking for support and encouragement in your healthy low-carb lifestyle, then you could not do much better than to join in on the conversation with all the wonderful members over at my “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Discussion” forum. The people who frequent there are some of the kindest, most helpful, and enthusiastic supporters of low-carb living that I’ve ever met and I’m honored to call many of them my virtual friends. Although we may not have ever met in person, the common bond we share with the use of low-carb for weight and health improvements makes it seem like we’ve known each other for years. I’d like to personally invite YOU to jump right in and make yourself at home there.

One of the benefits that people enjoy on my forum is the ability to ask questions about livin’ la vida low-carb that they are most concerned about. We all have our collective wisdom from this way of eating and are able to offer opinions and insights that you may not hear elsewhere. However, there are also several low-carb doctors, nutritionists, and others who linger on the board to offer feedback to the more difficult questions and I’m always watching out for new ones that may warrant a more detailed explanation.

Last week I noticed a very thought-provoking question about fiber from one of my very active members there that, quite frankly, I’d never really thought about before. We know that those of us who follow a low-carb regimen do not generally count dietary fiber in our total carbohydrates, so my reader asked the following questions regarding the caloric value of fiber:

If fiber is not digested (i.e., not metabolized into simple sugars), then why do we count the calories in it? If it “just passes through” then we should not count either carbs or calories. Alternatively, if we DO get energy (calories) from it, then it IS digested, right?

What a fantastic question because the reasoning makes sense–if the body can’t use fiber for energy, then why does it have calories or carbohydrates at all? Since this question is a bit more complex than a simple answer, I decided to turn to two of my resident nutritional experts for assistance. Hopefully this will help clear the air on an intriguing question.

The first person I asked about this was Jacqueline Eberstein, RN from Controlled Carbohydrate Nutrition. She worked with the late, great Dr. Robert C. Atkins for thirty years and is arguably the foremost authority on the Atkins diet today. Her answer regarding the labeling of fiber carbs and calories reflects American food manufacturers adhering to the stringent labeling laws that are in place.

“The calorie content is listed on the label since the U.S. labeling laws also require that fiber be include in the total carbs. Other countries don’t
include fiber in the total carb content so they likely don’t include the calories.”

We can infer from Eberstein’s response that apart from the labeling laws in the United States, fiber carbs and calories would NOT necessarily be counted since it would not be used for energy by the body. What does bestselling nutrition author Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth and a series of essential health books for your personal library, have to say about these questions? Here was his response:

Fiber is still counted as “carbohydrates” in label-making and it may just be the path of least resistance to call ALL carbohydrates “4 calories per gram.” As for why there are calories in soluble fiber, according to the FDA, it is listed on food labels as having calories because it does, in a roundabout way, contribute calories to the body. This is because most soluble fiber is used by the bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids which, in turn, are used by the body. These calories do not raise blood sugar, so when counting carbs, those in soluble fiber (like insoluble fiber) don’t count towards the total. This same situation is also true of oligosaccharides, which may or may not also be listed as fiber. The bottom line is when you are counting carbs, we can always subtract fiber from the total carbohydrate count on food labels.

What I hear Dr. Bowden saying is that there is still a caloric impact on the body when we consume fiber, but it just works in a different way than the calories that come from insulin-producing foods like starchy carbs and sugars. So the calories from fiber count, but the carbohydrates don’t. Does this make sense now?

Special thanks to my forum reader for an outstanding question about fiber. Feel free to share your compelling low-carb questions at the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Discussion” forum and if you stump us I’ll do my best to find out the answer for you from my Rolodex of bona fide low-carb expert friends! Never stop being educated about the healthy benefits of low-carb living.

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