Fiber is a hot topic these days. As you have likely heard, few Americans are consuming the 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day that is recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Most of us are falling short, bringing in an average of only 15 grams per day. And like wildfire, food manufacturers are catching on to our shortcomings by adding fiber to a growing number of products. Fiber is popping up in a variety of consumer goods including water, yogurt, snacks, and even artificial sweetener.
The health benefits of true dietary fiber are not just a trend. Populations that consume more dietary fiber have less chronic disease as well as improved digestive and cardiovascular health. Dietary fiber also aids in weight loss by increasing satiety and helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
The Institute of Medicine breaks fiber into 3 categories:
- Dietary fiber: The fiber that occurs naturally in plant foods. This is the fiber that you are likely more familiar with, found in whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
- Functional fiber, or “added fiber:” A synthetic fiber that may be added to foods or used as a supplement.
- Total fiber: The sum of both dietary and functional fiber.
So what should we eat to achieve our recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day? Can this “added” fiber take the place of whole grains and provide the same health benefits as naturally occurring dietary fiber? The verdict is still out, but new studies are finding that these new “added” fibers perform some of the same functions as dietary fiber such as aiding in digestion and feelings of satiety, which is encouraging. Plus, they are helping busy Americans better achieve their fiber goals.
They are not, however, perfectly equal to the fiber that is found naturally in foods. It’s difficult to compare a serving of nutrient-rich beans or fresh vegetables to a packet of artificial sweetener. Remember the old saying: Compare apples to apples. For the most part, foods with “added fiber” (or any other synthetically added nutritional enhancer for that matter) don’t provide the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients associated with naturally high-fiber foods.
Create Your Own "Added" Fiber
Here are some easy (and tasty!) ways to add your own fiber to your diet:
- Spruce up your salad with ½ cup shelled edamame (3 grams fiber), half an avocado (9 grams fiber), one ounce of toasted almonds (4 grams fiber), or ½ cup of garbanzo beans (6 grams fiber)
- Accessorize your morning cereal or yogurt with ½ cup fresh raspberries (4 grams fiber) or 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (4 grams fiber)
- Snack away on 3 cups air popped popcorn (4 grams fiber), a medium apple (4 grams fiber), or ½ cup of dried figs (8 grams fiber)
The Position of the American Dietetic Association states that “few fiber supplements and additives have been studied for physiological effectiveness, so the best advice is to consume fiber in foods.”
Bottom line: Whole foods always have been and always will be your best source of nutrition.
Take our Healthy Habits challenge, Go For Whole Grains, by adding 3 more servings of whole grains per day. Find our Go for More Grains guide for recipes, tips, and more strategies for working more fiber into your diet.