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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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Added Fiber vs. Foods Naturally High in Fiber

Camire acknowledges that foods naturally rich in fiber, such as whole grains and beans, may be more filling -- but adds that many people don't prepare these foods.

"If you're going to grab something convenient," she says, "something that's fortified with fiber makes sense."

Slavin wants to make sure nutrition fundamentals don't get overlooked in the fiber stampede.

"I never want to give up on having people eat the higher fiber food choices, rather than thinking just because we sneak fiber into processed foods, it's the same," she says. "It's not."

That's because if you look at the big picture, foods fortified with fiber may simply be less healthful overall. Naturally high-fiber foods contain many other plant compounds that may be partly responsible for some of the health effects credited to fiber. The American Dietetic Association's position paper on fiber states that adding purified dietary fiber to foods is less likely to benefit Americans than changing diets to include more whole foods that are rich in the substance.

Health Benefits of Fiber

Fiber may be best known for relieving or preventing constipation, but it also has been linked to weight loss, as well as reducing the risk of diverticulitis and diabetes.

The heart-health tag is also giving fiber a big boost, especially now that the FDA has approved health claims on package labels for foods that contain certain soluble fibers, such as rolled oats and whole-grain barley, related to reducing the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Some studies have linked fiber consumption to reducing the risk of cancer, but the evidence is mixed.

Can You Eat Too Much Fiber?

Too much fiber can cause problems such as bloating and gas, especially in those not accustomed to a high-fiber diet. Some food packages come with warnings that eating too much fiber too soon may cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

Here's how Slavin and Camire suggest you work fiber into your diet.

  • Add more fiber gradually. Let your body adjust to increased levels for a week or two before increasing again.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Don't load up in one sitting. Try to spread you fiber consumption throughout the day. 
  • Look for products with at least 8 grams of fiber per serving. That's about one-third of the recommended daily intake for women and children. This way you'll get the most benefit for the least amount of calories.
  • Be consistent about when you eat fiber-filled foods. "Getting a good slug of fiber every morning is going to help your body adjust and become more regular," Camire says. "If you have a croissant one day and a big slug of All-Bran the next, your body won't know what to do."
  • Following the food guidelines in MyPyramid will help you reach recommended daily intake levels by eating enough whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

 

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Reviewed on September 16, 2009

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