Perryman Nutrition Column: Getting the Most Out of the Fiber Fad?

Note to Reporters: The following column is by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

Americans get far too little fiber—about half of what’s recommended. We need about 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. Have you noticed all the packaged foods in the grocery aisles that are now touted as high in fiber?

You’re making the best choices if you eat food containing naturally-occurring fiber more often. Fiber is not naturally present in animal foods such as dairy products and meat. Eating fiber-fortified foods is not the same as eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Though it’s quick and easy to grab a high-fiber breakfast bar and a fiber-fortified yogurt, you’re not getting the same benefits as you would from a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with berries and milk. Eating a variety of foods ensures the most health benefits.

Don’t depend on the label claims on the front of the package to make the best choices. Instead check the list of ingredients. Avoid being tricked by buying a food with a misleading claim on the front and only a small amount of whole grain at the end of the ingredient list. A claim that a product is “made with five grams of whole grain per serving” on the front of the package is not the same as containing five grams of fiber if the grain is mostly refined white flour. Refined white flour is often accompanied by too much sugar and sodium.

Load your grocery cart with fiber-rich foods for the best health benefits. Some good choices include:

• dried beans and quick-cooking legumes such as lentils
• fresh fruits and vegetables
• whole grains such as brown rice, farro and rolled oats
• 100 percent whole wheat bread
• 100 percent whole-grain pasta
• nuts and seeds

If you opt for fiber-fortified foods, such as some yogurt and even some bottled water it’s important to be educated about food labels, which can be confusing. Added fiber does not necessarily equal fiber that is naturally present. The best health recommendation is to get most of your fiber naturally from whole foods and consider the packaged foods with added fiber something extra.

Isolated fiber, or fiber that is added to processed foods, include:
• inulin (also called chicory root extract)
• maltodextrin
• polydextrose
• oat, soy and corn fiber
• corn and wheat starch
• gums (arabic, guar, acacia)

Package labels may claim added fiber is equal to the fiber naturally present in whole foods. The Food and Drug Administration or FDA doesn’t currently require food manufacturers to specify on the nutrition facts label what percent of a food’s grain is added or natural. Research has confirmed the benefits of real fiber-rich plant foods—whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes. Plus you get the added health benefits of other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients naturally present. Some scientists are uncertain if the added-fiber foods have the same benefits of foods that are naturally rich in fiber.

One of the better options for adding fiber to your diet is whole-grain pasta. Be cautious when you see the words “whole grain” or “multi grain” on pasta labels:

• Check for the “100 percent Whole Grain” stamp from the Whole Grains Council. This stamp certifies that all the grain is whole and the contents contain at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving. Participation by a company in the stamp program is voluntary.
• Look for the phrase “100 percent whole wheat” or “100 percent whole grain.” Including the words “whole grain” or “wheat” on the label may be misleading because the product may contain mostly refined grain with a little whole grain.
• Check the ingredients label for “whole wheat flour” or “whole durum wheat flour.” “Semolina” or “durum wheat flour” minus the word whole makes it a refined grain.
• Don’t assume that health food brands or organic pastas are always whole grain.
• Pasta made with tomatoes or spinach may contain only a small amount of vegetables for coloring and don’t make a significant contribution toward the fiber content.

For more information on fiber see