A great New Year's Resolution is to aim to eat more fiber, every day, in 2010. Well, when it comes to fiber, there's what we nutritionists call "the real deal" fiber, predominantly found in whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables (though it's also in other natural foods) and then there is a new movement by food manufacturers to introduce fiber in just about any food you can think of. The fibers being added in the manufacturing process of foods like yogurt and nutrition bars and even fruit juice include inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose. The big question is whether or not these isolated fibers have the same health benefits or impact as naturally derived fibers.
Naturally occurring fibers or dietary fibers can help to reduce cholesterol, prevent constipation, and reduce the risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Some studies seem to indicate that a high fiber diet can also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Fiber helps to fill us up and allow for less total calorie intake, meaning that we eat less and possibly lose weight or just feel satisfied. Dietary fiber can be divided into water soluble and water insoluble groups. What's clear is that Americans are not eating enough fiber, so manufacturers decided to boost foods with an added dose of fiber to help consumers and, let's not forget, their own bottom line. With the message out there to get more fiber, companies know they can have robust sales with that tag line. Ingredients like maltodextrin and polydextrose act like fiber in that they resist digestion. Another group of fibers, sometimes called functional fibers, perform roles similar to dietary fibers by helping people feel full after eating and by helping to prevent constipation. Soy hulls, sorghum and oat fibers are all examples of functional fibers.
It's important to realize that isolated and functional fibers are missing the vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and other plant compounds that are found in high fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains. So if you only eat foods fortified with added fiber, you miss out on the bounty of nutrients that come packaged in whole foods. Breads and some cereals are unique in that the can also contain fiber from whole grains, specifically wheat bran, corn bran, or whole grain oats. A food can call itself a "good source of fiber" if it has 2.5 grams of fiber/serving and if it has 5 or more grams of fiber per serving the label can read high in fiber. Women under 50 need about 25 grams of fiber daily and men under 50 need about 38 grams of fiber daily to access health benefits. The best way to achieve those goals is to eat a diet that's full of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and breads, beans and legumes (nuts too) understanding your calorie needs. Round out that diet with appropriate sized servings of fish, eggs and egg whites, fat free dairy products and healthy fats like olive oil. Want to include occasional foods with added fiber? That's fine, just don't make them the primary sources of your daily fiber goals.
Published On: January 20, 2010