The rumor is true. Few Americans are consuming the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day. Most of us are falling short, bringing in an average of about 15 grams a day. Fiber is a good thing. A diet rich in dietary fiber has many benefits, including the following:
- Improving digestive health by keeping us “regular”
- Improving cardiovascular health by lowering bad LDL cholesterol
- Aiding in weight loss by helping you feel full and stay fuller longer
- Controlling blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream
Sorry guys, but there’s no actual fruit in those Froot Loops. So where’s the fiber coming from? To understand, let’s first look at the difference in the fiber found in the cereal vs. the whole berries. The Institute of Medicine categorizes fiber as either dietary or functional fiber. Dietary fiber is the fiber that occurs naturally in that cup of blueberries and other plant foods–think whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Added fiber (also called functional fiber) is a synthetic fiber that may be added to foods or used as a supplement–that’s the one found in the Froot Loops. Total fiber is the sum of both dietary and functional fiber.
Can this “added” fiber take the place of whole grains and provide the same health benefits as naturally occurring dietary fiber? The good news is that yes, functional fibers perform some of the same functions as dietary fiber. They may aid in digestion and help you feel more full after eating, which is encouraging. And they are definitely helping busy Americans better achieve their fiber goals. They are not, however, perfectly equal to the fiber that is found naturally in foods. For the most part, foods that have had functional fibers added to them are highly processed and don’t provide the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients associated with naturally high-fiber foods. If given the choice between fiber-fortified sugary Apple Jacks and an apple, you’re better off with that apple. Look at the ingredient list. If you see things like inulin, polydextrose, and pectin, then a functional fiber has been added to that food. While foods containing these types of fibers are good to help bridge the gap, I wouldn’t recommend relying on them for all of your fiber needs.
Bottom line: Whole foods always have been, and always will be, your best source of nutrition.
If you're looking for some easy, tasty ways to add more naturally occurring fiber to your diet, this story might help: The Skinny on Added Fiber.