Fiber, Fiber, Everywhere

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Fiber is traditionally found in plant foods--fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Lately it is popping up in unlikely places, say ice cream and yogurt for example. That does not seem normal, and surely it is a food additive.

Just when I thought the food trends were to go back to basics and eat more simply, somehow food continues to get more complicated. Our complicated food supply can be attributed in part to advances in food technology, and I am sure it is also a matter of money and marketing.

Now don’t get me wrong; I have said before and I say again I am not against marketing. However, as much as I am not against marketing, I am even more FOR an educated consumer. So in the interest of sticking with the simplicity trend, we will start basic and move forward to the current state of fiber in the grocery aisles of today!

Fiber recommendations according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • 38g per day for adult men age 50 and younger

  • 25g per day for adult women age 50 and younger

  • 30g per day for men over 50 years of age

  • 21g per day for women over 50 years of age

There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Both have different effects on our health. Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower our cholesterol, while insoluble helps to bulk up our stool and promote digestive health. In general we eat both types of fiber, as all natural sources of fiber contain both of them, albeit in different proportions. Keep in mind natural sources of fiber also contain a host of other nutritious properties such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Top Fiber-Rich Foods

This is definitely where you get on the BRAN wagon! One ounce of oat or wheat bran contains 12g fiber. Sprinkle it on your favorite foods, and remember many high fiber cereals are also packed with bran. Other top fiber foods are listed below by category.

Fiber rich foodsGrams of fiber
Beans and peas
1 cup Navy beans 19
1 cup Kidney beans16
1 cup Green peas14
1 cup Raspberries8
1 cup Blackberries 8
1 cup Blueberries 4
Whole grains
1 cup cooked barley 6
whole wheat spaghetti (cooked)6
1 cup bulgur cooked 8
1 cup turnips and collards5
1 cup spinach & beet greens4
1 ounce Almonds 4
¼ cup Sesame seeds 4
1 ounce Pistachios 3
½ cup dried figs 8
½ cup dried prunes 6
1 medium Pear 6

Fiber fortification!

Most foods fortified with fiber contain what is called isolated fiber--fiber that has been extracted from its original form. One example is inulin, which comes from the chicory root (root of the Belgian endive plant); the inulin is extracted much the same way that sugar is extracted from sugar beets.

Some foods that contain isolated fiber are:

  • Breakfast and granola bars (Fiber One chewy bars, Kellogg’s Fiber Plus bars)

  • Pasta & Bread products (Ronzoni Smart Taste™ pasta, Thomas’ Light English Muffins)

  • Yogurt and ice cream (Activia and Skinny Cow® ice cream sandwiches)

How do you know if you are eating isolated fiber?

Look for these most common isolated fibers in the ingredient list: Inulin or chichory root, maltodextrin, pectin, polydextrose, oat fiber, resistant starch (resistant corn starch)

Do isolated fibers provide the same benefits as intact (natural) fiber?

The short answer is: No, for the simple fact they do not come with the nutritious fruit, vegetable or whole grain attached.

However--there is usually a however--isolated fibers do have some health properties. For example, like intact fiber, they are not digested in the small intestine, and are subsequently fermented in the large intestine or colon. This is a good thing. Our large intestine is host to many strains of bacteria, some of which are health promoting. Fiber (intact or isolated) will stimulate the growth and maintenance of healthy bacteria by providing a source of fuel for the bacteria.

Other benefits of added isolated fibers are that they can be used and have been used to replace things like fat, sugar and flour in our food supply, thus yielding products that are lower in calories, fat and glycemic index. That can certainly be helpful. There will be more research on isolated fibers in our food supply, especially since use in heavily processed foods is growing.

The primary reason I am not wholeheartedly in favor of isolated fiber is that they can be added to less than healthy foods and then marketed as being “high in fiber”, insinuating that the food is somehow now healthy. This is where being an educated consumer is helpful. Scrutinize labels of packaged foods claiming to be high in fiber to make sure that you are not getting lots of extra calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt with the fiber. On the positive side I do think isolated fiber has a role in our food supply, especially in producing lower carbohydrate bread products which may help people with diabetes enjoy foods that may otherwise make blood sugar control more difficult.

  • King Arthur sells a flour blend that is a mixture of all-purpose flour and Hi-maize Natural fiber (resistant starch).

The bottom line: Nothing should replace the fiber you get from eating good ol' fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But it will not hurt to consume foods with added fiber. Just don’t eat two ice cream bars to get your daily fiber quota.

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