For years, health experts and doctors have advised Americans, young and old, to eat fiber. Yet the latest research maintains 90 percent of Americans still aren't eating enough of it, according to the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology (www.ifsh.iit.edu). The National Fiber Council recommends adults consume 32g a day; when the new Nutrition Facts panel becomes law, FDA will have increased the recommended daily allowance (RDA) from the current 25g to 28g.
Fiber not only promotes gastrointestinal health, it has a number of other health benefits. Its consumption can deter obesity, metabolic syndrome and changes in the intestine by promoting the growth of good bacteria in the colon, a study from Georgia State University found. Enriching mice's diets with fermentable inulin was able to curb metabolic syndrome caused by a high-fat diet. Inulin is found in chicory, asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes.
Grains, especially whole grains, are some of the best sources of fiber. Grains have other valuable nutrients, such as antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and iron. They can reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, advantages few other foods offer.
The Whole Grains Council (wholegrainscouncil.org) says a full serving of whole grains is about 16g -- which typically contains half gram to around 3g of ﬁber. Wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye – when eaten in their "whole" form, contain more disease-ﬁghting phytochemicals and antioxidants than vegetables and fruit, the council states. Grain is considered whole as long as all three of its original parts — the bran, germ and endosperm — are still present in the same proportions as when the grain was growing in the ﬁeld.
Because of their fiber content as well as the phytochemicals and antioxidants, whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 25-36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, Type 2 diabetes by 21-27 percent, digestive system cancers by 21-43 percent and hormone-related cancers by 10-40 percent, the Whole Grains Council claims.
How to get fiber
With all those positive attributes, most Americans don't eat enough whole grains, says a recent survey by Kellogg Co. (www.kelloggcompany.com). Why? The answer may be two-fold, Kellogg says. Consumers don't know where to find fiber, and mistakenly believe products that tout "whole grain" provide it. "The consumer confusion around fiber and whole grains is staggering," admits Nelson Almeida, vice president of global nutrition for Kellogg. "Even people trying to improve their diets may be failing to do so because of this confusion."
Nationally recognized dietitian Leslie Bonci, adds, "Fiber brings big benefits. Yet confusion about how to find foods with fiber likely contributes to America's fiber deficit."
To help remedy this, Kellogg has teamed up with Bonci to offer Fiber-pedia, an online report providing information to consumers about where to find good sources of fiber. It explains how fiber can be beneficial for a healthy weight, digestive health and heart health. It also describes the role fiber plays in helping keep children's digestive systems healthy so they can absorb nutrients.
"Kellogg has more ready-to-eat cereals that are at least a good source of fiber than any other food company," Almeida says. Those include All-Bran, Raisin Bran and Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Many food companies are adding fiber and whole grains to their products. Flowers Foods (www.flowersfoods.com) incorporates 21g of whole grains per slice and 3g of fiber in Nature's Own 12-Grain bread. The company's Double Fiber Wheat has 4g fiber per slice. Arla Foods (www.arlausa.com) is adding it to yogurt with new Arla Fibre yogurt in the U.K. The product contains 4.7g of fiber per serving, without the taste or texture of fiber, Arla says.
Protein bar maker NuGo Nutrition (NuGoFiber.com) offers Fiber d'Lish soft-baked fiber bars, packed with soluble and insoluble fiber, in 10 fruity, nutty, dessert-like flavors. They mix six grains and seeds plus prebiotic inulin, which provides soluble and insoluble fiber not found in other bars, the company says. "Knowing the benefits of diets rich in fiber – like reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and improved digestive health – we really wanted to offer a superior and tasty, on-the-go fiber option," notes CEO David Levine.
General Mills' Cascadian Farm (www.cascadianfarm.com) kicked off 2018 with an organic granola in Lemon Blueberry and Strawberry, made with organic whole-grain oats, organic pumpkin seeds, dried fruit and vitamin E. Available nationally, the granola has 3g of dietary fiber and no cholesterol.
Although much of the fiber and whole-grain supplementation has focused on breakfast and snacking, dinner time can up the ante as well. Grainful (www.grainful.com) has taken oats to dinner with Steel Cut Sides, oats with savory spices and vegetables, which can serve as side dishes or even entrees, especially if meat or other proteins are added, suggests Jeannine Sacco, co-founder and chief food officer. "We were immediately drawn to steel cut oats, the less processed sibling of rolled oats, for being chock-full of fiber, complete proteins and loads of other nutrients, all in one gluten-free, heart-healthy package." Grainful sides can also be added to taco filling and burger patties for grilling.
Changes for fiber
The very definition of fiber is going through a big regulatory change. Last May, the FDA re-defined dietary fiber as naturally occurring fibers; all others will have to prove a physiological benefit. Seven non-digestible carbohydrates — beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose —currently meet the existing dietary fiber guidelines.
So food processors – more accurately, their fiber suppliers -- will have to demonstrate one beneficial physiological effect to human health to meet the definition's requirements. So far, the FDA has reviewed 26 isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbs. These include gum acacia, bamboo fiber, pea fiber, soluble corn fiber, soy fiber and xanthan gum.
The agency's delay in certifying these fibers has some food companies limiting their label's fiber declaration or removing dietary fiber altogether in some products. "Bakers and other fiber users cannot move forward until the ruling has been finalized," warns the American Bakers Assn. The state of prebiotic fibers also remains at a standstill as of presstime, as the agency continues to review the many comments received about them.
"Manufacturers still gain a fiber benefit from using whole grains, considered intrinsic and intact. Therefore, they'll be approved by the FDA under the proposed definition of dietary fiber," says Colleen Zammer, Bay State Milling. "This makes whole grains a safe bet for delivering fiber in new food products. Refined wheat flour that inherently contains fiber, such amylose-derived resistant starch, is also considered intrinsic and intact, and can be used to deliver fiber in food products under the current and future proposed fiber definitions."
"Reformulating with a new fiber source can be very difficult," adds Zammer. "It's not a simple substitution effort, as these are highly functional ingredients."