One of the hottest buzzwords in nutrition and health circles, fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods. It helps us feel full and decreases our appetite. Fiber helps the intestines function smoothly, regulates blood sugar levels, and lowers bad cholesterol.
As you probably know, fiber rich foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The rule of thumb is that the less processed the food, the more fiber. The problem is that these unprocessed foods are not always popular with consumers. They require some preparation (peeling an orange vs drinking Tropicana), are less tasty than processed foods (whole grain rice vs white rice, beans vs a steak), and are harder to chew (wonder bread vs rye bread).
As a result, most Americans are far from reaching the required daily consumption of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men. This means a huge opportunity for the food industry, which now adds fiber to many processed foods.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Some foods, such as whole wheat bread, are naturally high in fiber. A growing number of products, however, proudly proclaim their high-fiber content, such as Arnold’s Double Fiber Bread and Yoplait’s Fiber One yogurt, getting some or all of their fiber from so-called isolated or functional fibers — ingredients with names like inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose — that manufacturers intentionally add to foods to boost total fiber content. read more…
But questions are being asked about the utility of these functional fibers as compared to the real thing. When we consume fiber directly from the source, we’re getting the additional benefits of micronutrients in the whole grain or fruit. Once isolated from its nutrient buddies in a plant and injected into a yogurt or juice, the health benefit of inulin may not be the same as a similar amount of fiber in a whole food.
What to do at the supermarket:
If you are seeking fiber, don’t look just at the nutrition facts panel. Read the ingredient list to find whole grains at the beginning. A heavily processed food with a long ingredient list that includes inulin or maltodextrin is less beneficial than a less processed product with whole grain.
Bran (the hard outer layer of a grain) in the ingredient list is a good thing to find. In breakfast cereals, products that include bran and whole grain have better fiber content than those based on processed grains.
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