For years, any weight-loss aficionado could easily tell you the best sources of dietary fiber: whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
But in today’s environment, things have changed. Grocery store shelves have become crowded with traditionally low-fiber foods that are now packed with fiber.
According to the TOPS Club – Take Off Pounds Sensibly – a nonprofit weight-loss support organization, these “new fiber” foods may not yield the same health benefits as their traditional high-fiber counterparts.
Dietary fiber – also called roughage – is defined by the Institute of Medicine as the edible, nondigestible component of carbohydrate and lignin found naturally in plant food. Fiber isn’t digested or absorbed in the small intestine, and it doesn’t contribute calories; rather, bacteria in the stomach metabolize the fibrous parts of food. When you eat a food that contains a natural source of dietary fiber, you’re said to be eating intact fiber.
Added fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. These fibers can be synthetically manufactured or derived from other plant or animal sources. An example of an added fiber is pectin extracted from citrus peel and used as a gel in making jam or jelly.
Generally, added fiber is referred to as isolated or functional fiber.
Total fiber is the sum of dietary (or intact) fiber plus added (or isolated or functional) fiber. Things can seem confusing on the Nutrition Facts panel of food packaging because “dietary fiber” includes all sources of fiber in that food, whether they’re from intact or isolated sources.
This is why you can see upward of 10 grams of dietary fiber listed for a fiber-fortified flour tortilla that traditionally would have only 1 or 2 grams of fiber.
Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and promote satiety or the feeling of fullness.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women ages 50 and younger should consume 25 grams of fiber per day. Women ages 51 and older should aim for 21 grams per day.
For males, those 50 and younger need 38 grams per day, and ages 51 and older should consume 30 grams of fiber per day.
By increasing the amount of whole grains and legumes in your diet and making sure to eat five to seven servings of fruits per day, it’s possible to meet your dietary fiber needs without eating fiber-fortified or isolated-fiber foods. Eating whole foods that are naturally high in fiber are often more satiating – and less expensive – than foods that contain functional fiber or are fiber-fortified.
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