By: Deborah Jeffery, RD LD
Fiber is a general term referring to complex carbohydrates that your body cannot digest or absorb into your blood stream. Instead of being used for energy like other carbohydrates, fiber is eliminated. Fiber is a phytonutrient that promotes good health in many ways. Dietary fiber can play an important role in the prevention or treatment of various diseases and disorders. These include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, obesity, diverticular disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as constipation.
Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods. Good sources of dietary fiber include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, fats, oils and sugar contain no dietary fiber. Experts are now recommending a dietary fiber intake in the range of 20 – 35 grams/day for the healthy adult. The average American consumes between 10 – 20 grams/day – well below the current recommendations. For children (starting at age 2) and teens, the recommendation is add their age plus 5 to determine how much fiber they need. For example, a 7 year old needs about 12 grams of fiber.
Fiber is everywhere these days, even in popular brands of ice cream and drink mixes. It seems that with all of these high-fiber choices flooding the market, no one should end up short—right? Actually, the type of fiber that is added to common food products is isolated fiber, which is very different from the intact, natural fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Unfortunately, not much research exists to prove that these additive fiber sources are as beneficial to our health as the naturally occurring kind.
Inulin, maltodextrin, oat fiber, and polydextrose, the most commonly added isolated fibers, are found in everything from yogurt to cookies. What we do know for sure is that these fibers cannot lower cholesterol, although some may still help with regularity. Eating large quantities of foods containing either inulin or polydextrose can lead to gas or bloating, or even have a laxative effect.
Eating these foods in moderation is not harmful, but it surely is not as beneficial as the food labels would have us believe. Do not let these foods take the place of whole fruits and vegetables, or whole grains in your diet. Read the ingredient labels carefully before putting your faith in products.
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