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Fiber: Today's 'It' Ingredient

From breakfast cereal to chocolate bars, fiber is the new darling of the food world.
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Boosting Fiber Is Easier Than Ever continued...

Much of the fiber added to the newest wave of fortified foods is soluble and comes from inulin, a plant compound commonly extracted from chicory root that can make low-fat foods taste creamier and add sweetness. Inulin also is derived from byproducts of sugar production from beets. Soluble corn fiber, which replaces traditional sweeteners as well as adding fiber, is also turning up on ingredient lists.

"Companies have been realizing this is a relatively easy thing to do to enhance a food," says Mary Camire, PhD, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine and president of AACC International, formerly the American Association of Cereal Chemists. "The technology is there, and the science on the benefits of fiber is improving."

Our Love-Hate Relationship With Fiber

Although most new products fail to find enough buyers to remain on shelves, foods with fiber claims have staying power. In a recent survey from the International Food Information Council, an industry association, consumers rated fiber as the top ingredient they look for when choosing foods or beverages with added health benefits.

But just because we say we want more fiber, doesn't mean we're eating enough of it. According to the Institute of Medicine, children and adults get less than half the recommended daily intake of 19 grams to 38 grams a day.

Yet nutritionists are cautious about recommending certain foods with added fiber, especially if they come with lots of calories, sugar, salt, or fat.

"High-fiber foods are the foods we love people to eat: fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains," says Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota. "We don't want people to think just because they've eaten a high-fiber bar means they're off the hook."

Especially if that bar adds another 200 calories to the daily total, when two-thirds of adults already are overweight or obese.

Nutritionists like Slavin are weighing the benefits of added fiber over potential drawbacks.

"It's an incredibly hard sell in nutrition to get people to make better choices," Slavin says. "The realistic side of me says people eat less fiber than they did 30 years ago, despite quite a bit of public knowledge and interest in it."

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