Not All Fiber is Created Equal (PLUS 3 Tips You Need to Know!)

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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Not All Fiber is Created Equal (PLUS 3 Tips You Need to Know!)

We all know fiber is our friend and is credited with many health benefits, the most poo-pular of which are keeping you regular and lowering cholesterol. But the sad truth is, most of us aren’t eating enough fiber. The average American consumes only 15 grams per day compared to the recommendations of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

You might be thinking: Then adding “processed” fiber to foods is an easy way to meet my goals then, right? Not so fast. Let’s look at the differences:

Natural vs. Processed “Added” Fiber
Natural fibers are found in minimally processed foods: pectin in fruit, cellulose in whole grains, beta-glucans in oatmeal… You get the idea! Frequently incorporating these foods into your diet will not only help you stay regular but will also provide plenty of important vitamins and minerals, too.

Processed fibers begin as natural fibers but are extracted, concentrated and added to foods like crackers, breakfast cereals, milks, breakfast shakes, bars and more (think “high in fiber” marketing claims). Commonly added processed fibers include inulin (from chicory root extract), polydextrose (from corn) and modified starches. While these are popular fiber additions to make processed foods seem healthier, they don’t actually lower cholesterol, help you stay regular or likely make you feel more full.

So, What’s the Verdict?
Almost all studies supporting fiber benefits look at minimally processed foods high in fiber, not processed foods with added fiber, so it’s best to get your fiber from natural sources. If you increase your intake gradually and stay well hydrated, natural foods will cause less gassiness and bloating than supplements. Plus, these foods also provide important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

3 Tips to Fine Tune Your Fiber Intake
First work on hitting your fiber goal, be it from natural or processed sources. Start slowly and drink plenty of fluids, and choose natural sources whenever possible. If you’re looking to fine tune your fiber intake to lose weight, be more regular or here are some tips to help:

1. I want to feel more full at mealtime & lose weight.
Think unprocessed and think volume. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts are excellent sources of natural fiber. They take longer to chew and slow the digestion and absorption of simple carbohydrates, allowing your brain time to register, “I’m full.” If you’re hesitating between apple, applesauce or apple juice, pick the least processed option (the apple, in this case) every time!

2. I want to be regular.
To be regular in the long haul, think unprocessed and think volume. Again, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts will provide you with the “bulky” fibers that absorb water and increase stool weight which makes stools softer and easier to pass. Remember to drink plenty of fluids though, because it’s the water + insoluble fiber combo that does the trick!

3. I want to lower my “bad” (or LDL) cholesterol.
Never mind if the fiber source is processed or natural, just think “soluble fiber.” Soluble fibers include beta glucan (oats, barley, rye), pectin (fruit, veggies, beans), gums (seeds, seaweed) and inulin (chicory, onion, processed foods). They form a jelly-like substance in your small intestine preventing your body from absorbing cholesterol.

How do you fit fiber in your day? Share your comments below.

Sources:
https://www.andjrnl.org/article/S0002-8223(02)90228-2/fulltext
https://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/how-to-diet/how-to-diet-is-adding-processed-fiber-to-foods-beneficial/
https://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/13/146706553/is-adding-fiber-to-food-really-good-for-your-health
https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/063008p28.shtml
https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-manufactured-fiber-natural-fiber-3930.html

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

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6 responses to “Not All Fiber is Created Equal (PLUS 3 Tips You Need to Know!)”

  1. Avatar anonymous says:

    What about adding something like benefiber to your diet, as well as more fruits and vegetables?

  2. Avatar kwest_4_fitness says:

    I’ve read several articles published by the
    Journal Medicine and the AMA that disagree with this article. Processed fiber, like that found in
    supplements like Metamucil or Benefiber and in fiber bars and cereals, are most
    certainly beneficial to a healthy diet.
    They help with regularity, feelings of fullness, and stimulating growth
    of beneficial bacteria. I realize people
    need to embrace whole, natural foods when possible, but articles like these are
    disingenuous and make people trying to eat healthier feel that they are failing
    if everything they eat isn’t locally grown, organic, free range, homemade.

    • Avatar Ron Lee says:

      Agree 100% on it being disingenuous. Vilifying food has become the flavor de jour and people are trying to brow beat others into submission instead of promoting a truly healthy diet and lifestyle. Eat predominantly whole healthy food but don’t beat yourself up if things get hectic and you have to supplement in. If this article is representative of where dietician’s are heading they we are in for a lot of headaches

    • Avatar Bob says:

      I don’t think it’s disingenuous at all. The article clearly says, “work on hitting your fiber goal, be it from natural or processed sources.”

  3. Avatar SistrckV says:

    I add a Tablespoon of ground flax (i grind it myself) to my cereal, smoothies, etc. Comments please, after reading this article which never mentioned flax seed, I wonder…..am I doing a goid thing or not!?

  4. Avatar Ella says:

    I usually get wayyy too much fiber in my diet…so I’ve had to decrease it! 1 cup of oats gives around 10-16 grams of fiber, and if I have my lunch of a Quest bar (17-18g), I’ve already met my limit! That not even including the fruit I eat in my lunch. It’s so easy to get fiber…protein is the more difficult one since I’m a vegetarian!

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