As an observer of the American food scene, I see many instances of oddly supplemented foods and drinks, where everyday foods are dosed with antioxidants or vitamins or another supposedly healthful supplement to give its buyer a sense of healthy satisfaction. But there is always another surprise lurking around the next corner.
For me, the latest 'next corner' was in Seoul during my recent trip to Asia. While strolling in the neighborhood around my hotel one morning, an advertisement caught my eye. "The Stylish Beer with Fiber," read the label in the 6-foot-tall advertisement. "Stylish beer" is definitely something I'm familiar with, having watched my share of sporting events. But fiber? That's a new one, and something that seemed unlikely to me for Korea, a place where the diet includes hefty doses of fiber-rich kim chi at each meal. (Note: kim chi isn't limited to Napa cabbage — as the exhibits in the Kim Chi Museum demonstrate, there are hundreds of varieties.)
A visit to the Hite website showed me that my initial assumption was incorrect. The beer, which called "S," is meant to fill a hole in Koreans' diet. "[T]he recommended daily dietary fiber allowance for Koreans ranges from 20g to 25g. Koreans’ average intake is 17.3g, which means 3~8g of more dietary fiber a day is needed," according to Hite. With 100 milliliters of S beer containing 0.5 gram of dietary fiber, knocking back two pints would add about 5 grams of fiber to one's diet, bringing the average Korean into the recommended range for fiber. For comparison purposes, two medium bananas contain 6.2 grams of fiber, and a large apple with skin has 5.4 grams (figures from the USDA nutrient database).
Although this looks like 'nutritionism' — i.e., creating a healthy diet from a collection of discrete chemicals instead of real food — I view fiber as belonging to a different class than antioxidants, vitamins, and the other stuff that shows up in unexpected places in our food system. Fiber is a lot simpler and more inert. But then again, a diet without enough fiber is a diet that is out of balance, tilted too far toward processed foods, meat, and dairy. And beer companies can't increase market share by giving nutrition lessons, so we'll probably be seeing more products like these. But probably not in the U.S., where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is loathe to allow anything like a health claim on an alcoholic beverage.