Heart health and fiber tend to go hand in hand. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both have different effects on our health. Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower our cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, while insoluble fiber helps to bulk up our stool and promote digestive health.
For the sake of cholesterol and heart health, we do want to focus on foods with a higher proportion of soluble fiber. The soluble fiber goals are 7-13g soluble fiber a day. Foods with a higher proportion of soluble fiber are: barley, oatmeal, citrus fruit, pears, prunes and Brussels sprouts.
Most of us should get more fiber (soluble and insoluble) than we currently consume. It is best to get your fiber from whole foods rather than relying on fiber supplements. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, and legumes. Keep in mind natural sources of fiber also contain a host of other nutritious properties such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. But more and more you may see foods with added fiber.
Most foods fortified with fiber contain what is called isolated fiber, fiber that has been extracted from its original form--for example, inulin. Inulin 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:
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 that 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, they are not digested in the small intestine, like intact fiber, 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 processed foods is growing.
The bottom line: Nothing should replace the fiber you get from eating good ole 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.