Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is 'added fiber' as beneficial as the fiber naturally found in foods?

Is 'added fiber' as beneficial as the fiber naturally found in foods? Marketing campaigns certainly seem to indicate so. Ever since fiber became the new nutritional savior, companies are adding it to just about everything, even water! Consumers are unaware that this added fiber does not have all the benefits of natural fiber.

The fiber that is added to foods is called 'functional fiber'. Functional fiber does not have the same properties as the fiber found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Companies have invested lots of money into producing these new fibers and many of them have not been well-studied.

Natural dietary fiber is divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble. The soluble dietary fibers becomes viscous in water and lowers cholesterol by escorting it out of the body. Lower cholesterol levels help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Insoluble fibers add stool bulk and promote regularity. Insoluble fiber is not digested in the stomach or small intestine. They get transported to the large intestine where they have their main effects. Bacteria ferment the fiber causing an increase in the acidity of the large intestine. This increased acidity leads to many health benefits, including a decrease in inflammation, an increase in immune function and increased calcium and mineral uptake. Further, many illness-causing pathogens don't tolerate the acidic environment and die before causing disease. Fiber in the large intestine also helps to add bulk to stool, helping to decrease constipation.

Functional fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate that has been shown to have some benefits yet studies are not clear. By definition, functional fiber is fiber that is extracted or isolated chemically or some other way. Like soluble fiber, functional fibers are often soluble in water but they are not always 'sticky' and therefore can't lower cholesterol levels the way that soluble fiber can. Functional fiber does seem to increase stool bulk and help prevent constipation. Functional fibers have names such as inulin (from chicory root), polydextrose, resistant maltodextrin, oligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides and methylcellulose.

According the the American Dietetic Association, consumers should get fiber from a variety of sources. The ADA maintains that fiber found in natural foods is superior to 'added' or 'functional' fiber. More studies must be done to fully determine the difference.

Marketing campaigns are extremely misleading. They imply that these added fibers are equal to natural fiber. Even the nutrition label is no help; functional and natural fibers are lumped together under the dietary fiber category.

The basic idea is that while it is okay to get some of your fiber from these added sources, it is not okay to get all of your fiber from added sources. The key is variety. Try to get your fiber from a bunch of different sources.


Sunil said...

No they are not beneficial.


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Carol Blanton said...

It is not good to rely only to "added fiber" on foods as it does not have all benefits from the natural fiber.