Fiber Facts: Understanding Food Labels and Isolated Fibers
Did you know that there’s fiber in my ice cream? Or did you know that there’s 3.6 g of fiber in one cup of blueberries? Have you noticed that recently the rise in foods (possibly some you eat on a regular basis) have much more fiber in them than they used to? Here are some of the eye-catching labels that you run into while grocery shopping:
- ⅓ of Your Daily Needs for Fiber
- An Excellent Source of Fiber
- Now With Twice as Much Fiber
Is it true? Did food manufacturers suddenly find a magical way to make all of our favorite foods healthier?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. What happened is that food manufacturers stumbled upon something called “isolated fibers.” Isolated fibers are insoluble fibers that help with our digestive system. Examples of these isolated fibers are inulin, maltodextrin, oat fiber, soy fiber, modified wheat starch, sugarcane fiber, and polydextrose.
Food labels count these isolated fibers when communicating how much fiber is in a serving of any given food. However, buyer beware, because these fibers absolutely do not lower blood cholesterol levels or reduce the risk of diabetes, like their natural counterparts do. Some of these fibers do help to promote regularity, but not all of them—for instance, inulin does not, but polydextrose might, and oat fiber, sugarcane fiber, and soy fiber almost certainly do. However, any of these isolated fibers can lead to gas and other gastrointestinal issues when eaten in large doses. In fact, any food that contains more than 15 grams of polydextrose must have a warning label stating that “sensitive individuals may experience a laxative effect from excessive consumption of this product.
It looks like if you eat five high-fiber ice cream sandwiches, you have met your goal for the day, but that is absolutely not true. These fibers do not give you the same health benefits, and depending on them to meet your daily fiber needs is not nearly as healthful as eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The trouble is that some people might pick up a package of high-fiber toaster pastry, and decide that this is just as good as whole-grain cereal. In addition, many of these new high-fiber foods are very high in sugar and Trans fats.
100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat – This means the product contains no refined white flour.
Whole grain – Most of these products contain little or no refined white flour. Look at the label’s ingredient list to see how far down on the list the enriched wheat flour, unbleached white flour, or wheat flour appears—the lower the better.
Whole-grain white – This label usually appears on bread, but it does not necessarily mean anything specific. In the best case scenario, the bread was made with an albino variety of wheat. Most breads with this label contain a mix of whole and refined flour from red wheat. Look for the brands that contain more whole flour, and less refined flour.
12-grain or multigrain – It does not matter how many grains are in a product. It matters how many of those grains are whole grains.
May prevent heart disease – This claim is approved for use on almost any food that is made from at least 51% whole grains, and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Replacing isolated fibers
Instead of relying on highly processed food products with questionable marketing, you should rely on the following foods to meet your fiber quota, and rest easy knowing that you are certainly helping your health:
- Oat bran
- Breakfast cereals, including:
- All-Bran® Bran Buds®
- Shredded wheat
- Raisin bran
- Grains including:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat breads and pastas
- All fresh fruits, especially:
- Dried figs
- Dried and fresh plums
- All fresh vegetables, especially:
- Green beans
- Winter squash
- Broad beans
- Artichoke hearts
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Dried beans
Difference between whole grain and high fiber
Different grains naturally contain different amounts of fiber. Bran products, for instance, are not whole grain. Bran is an excellent source of fiber, but is not technically a whole grain, because whole grains must contain the bran, endosperm, and germ of the grain.