Monday, April 5, 2010

Not All Fibers Are Created Equal

You are probably aware that fiber is a beneficial part of a healthy diet. In fact, food manufacturers are betting that most people know this. Fiber is a food "fad" right now, and you may have noticed it being added to everything from yogurt to energy bars. Food manufacturers are isolating specific types of fiber to add to their products so that they can boast about it on their labels. This might leave you wondering- do the benefits of these products really match up to all the hype?

Fiber used to be simply divided into two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the type that is best known for its ability to lower blood cholesterol (you may be familiar with the Quaker oat campaign touting its ability to lower blood cholesterol). Insoluble fiber is what my grandmom used to call "roughage", it helps move things along in the digestive tract. Today we know that the breakdown into two groups is too simplistic. We now know that different types of these fibers provide a variety of functions. For example, inulin (the type that is often added to yogurt) supports healthy gut bacteria. New research on the soluble fiber pectin (found in apples) has shown that it has the ability to improve intestinal health as well. Eating certain types of soluble fiber has also recently been linked with a stronger immune system.

So what about those added fibers? For the most part, adding fiber to processed foods that are lacking in nutrients really does not make them a better choice nutritionally. A good example of this is companies adding a undigestable fiber such as cellulose to nutritionally devoid white bread to increase its fiber content. They are betting that some consumers will simply look at the fiber content of the bread (or the label that shouts "high fiber") and be convinced to purchase it. In reality, you are better off buying the whole wheat bread that is naturally full of nutrients. (Tip-look for the first ingredient of the bread to be a whole grain flour instead of basing your decision on how much fiber is in the bread). Foods that are naturally high in fiber provide vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other beneficial nutrients not found in the "enriched" processed foods.

Bottom line: Don't really on these "supplemented" foods to get your daily fiber. Eat more whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts!

1 comment:

  1. Why are food companies allowed to fill our food with junk?