Power Lunch: Fiber in Children’s Foods Warrants a Closer Look

June 12, 2024
What always sounded like a good idea is finally meeting scientific criteria to look further into fiber’s health benefits for developing bodies.

By Dr. Wendelyn Jones, IAFNS Executive Director

Studies have shown that children may not eat enough fiber, potentially leading to adverse health outcomes. But is there enough science and information to make firm conclusions about fibers added to food?

A new scoping review describes available evidence on the health impact among children of fibers added to foods (i.e., isolated and synthetic fibers). The review identified 32 randomized control trials of specific isolated or synthetic fibers and kids’ health across a range of outcomes that the FDA uses to determine the health benefits of fiber.

The article “Physiologic Effects of Isolated or Synthetic Dietary Fiber in Children: A Scoping Review” appears in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Developments in Nutrition.

From this scoping review, they found sufficient evidence to proceed with conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses for several outcomes. However, they acknowledged that evidence gaps remain on the impact of isolated fibers on outcomes such as laxation and colonic transit time in children and postprandial glycemia/insulinemia in adolescents.

The work was supported by the Institute for the Advancement of Food & Nutrition Sciences’ Carbohydrates Committee, which also supports a publicly available Dietary Fiber Database that was utilized in this project. The database, maintained by Dr. Nicola McKeown at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation at Boston University, contains data extracted from more than 1,300 publications on randomized controlled trials linking fiber to various health outcomes.

“Our review demonstrates that there is sufficient research associated with isolated fibers and cardiometabolic outcomes such as weight, adiposity, and measures of lipid and glucose metabolism, and gut health to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis,” according to senior author Dr. Nanguneri Nirmala, investigator at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center.

Dr. McKeown added, “We also note sufficient evidence for bone-health-related measures such as calcium absorption and vitamin D concentrations, so our next step is to examine the strength of evidence in a systematic review and meta-analysis.” These more detailed reviews will analyze the quality of the evidence to determine whether associations are beneficial and go further to characterize the effect of fibers on outcomes across age groups.

Further work in this area will be forthcoming, but the 32 studies merit additional review to inform food processors and anyone concerned about children’s health about fortification with fiber for children’s foods.

Dr. Wendelyn Jones is executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences committed to leading positive change across the food and beverage ecosystem.

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