Fiber: Perhaps Not as Simple as You Thought


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  56 comments   :  23,169 Views

Since the early 1950's when the term was first coined, dietary fiber has been known as a type of carbohydrate from plant foods that is not digested or absorbed. They are talked about many times based on their two different types, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber touted for its blood cholesterol lowering benefits and ease to acquire from foods such as oats, beans, lentils, citrus fruits, and carrots. Insoluble fiber recommended for its benefits for the digestive system and healthy food sources such as bran, whole grain products, fruit, and vegetables.

Food manufacturers have begun adding fiber to foods that were previously fiber free. (Learn more about this "stealth fiber.") Foods such as yogurt, ice cream, or drinks with isolated fibers confuse the issue for many consumers. Since many of these isolated fibers can affect the gastrointestinal system and do not contain health protective benefits, it is important to know about new classifications of fiber and why these new additives are permitted.

In 2001, a Panel on the Definition of Dietary Fiber (an Institutes of Medicine panel) responded to an FDA request to formally define dietary fiber. The IOM referred to recommendations and work done by the AACC (American Association of Cereal Chemists) and developed definitions that were presented to the FDA. New definitions focus on diversity of non-digested carbohydrates in the food supply. They broaden the definition from just plants to include carbohydrates contributed by animal foods as well. They also open the door to manufactured fibers as well. So what does this mean to you when you are trying to monitor your fiber intake?

In the proposed new definitions, Dietary Fiber is "non-digestible carbohydrates as well as lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants." Non-digestible material includes those from foods that are not digested or absorbed in the small intestine as well as chemically created fibers that aren't absorbed either. Functional fibers are "those that may be isolated or extracted non-digestible carbohydrates using chemical, enzymatic, or aqueous processes." Manufactured resistant starch and modified natural sources are also included. Animal-derived carbohydrates like connective tissues are also newly included since they meet the new technical definition of "non-digestible." Now, newly synthesized products are listed as fiber on food labels.

In the fall of 2007, the FDA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for comment on the new definitions for fiber. There is currently one category of dietary fiber on the Nutrition Fact label. The total reflects the sum of the dietary fiber and functional fiber for total fiber. The terms soluble and insoluble will eventually be phased out once analytical methods and processes are established to distinguish natural from created fibers. Currently these analytical issues prevent one clear cut set of guidelines from being followed. It is important to remember that these new definitions originated with a cereal organization. As I touched on briefly last week, marketing can be a wonderful thing. It can also cause people to venture away from the truth in favor of false promises. Food labels include isolated fibers and resistant starches as well as dietary fiber and functional fiber divisions in per serving fiber counts. However, fiber from these sources may not aid health such as lowering blood cholesterol or reducing diabetes risks in the same way their whole food counter parts might.

The Bottom Line

Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. Not only does it help with digestion and regularity, it also provides heart and diabetes health benefits as well. Be careful when you read labels and see dietary fiber and functional fiber information on processed foods. Marketing hype can cause you to believe you are meeting your fiber recommendations eating high-fiber ice cream or toaster pastries. Allow your inner Spark to shine through and remind you that the fiber in a processed food will never be better for you than that of the naturally occurring fiber from a whole food. Focus your fiber counting around oats, oat bran, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and dried beans. This will allow you to be certain your health will be benefitted and you have limited your processed foods including processed fiber.

Did you know there were new definitions for fiber? Did you notice changes for fiber reporting on nutrition labels? What are your favorite fiber sources?

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    Thanks - 1/19/2018   6:07:57 AM
  • 55
    Really good information! - 11/16/2017   8:01:30 AM
  • 54
    Thanks for the info. I, too, consider myself well informed on nutrition and new things on the market. But this is just one more example of how I learn from SP articles. - 9/4/2010   9:37:50 AM
    Good information to know, and that explains why the cereals are saying they have fiber.
    I will stick to whole foods and leave the process foods alone. - 9/3/2010   1:14:32 AM
  • 52
    I must wonder if the chinese government was increasing their fiber when they added the nasty things they did to their food products.
    I sure hope we do not end up with these horrific things added in the name of dietary fiber. That really scares me. Big businesses can get away with way too much in the food industry. Pat in Maine. - 9/2/2010   2:52:00 PM
  • 51
    Sometimes I like whole wheat sometimes I want my PB&J on old fashioned "wonder"-like bread. I asked my nutritionist whether there was any difference between eating whole wheat bread or fiber enriched "lite" white bread. She said there was no difference nutritionally. Is she wrong? The calories are greater and the fiber is less in the whole wheat bread. The oatmeal bread has virtually no fiber. Eeesh. - 9/2/2010   11:05:10 AM
  • 50
    I'm much to frugal with my grocery money after raising five children to buy any food that is hyped with some claim of "added fiber." I take 1 tbsp. of Psyilium Husk that I buy in a bulk container at the Health Food Store & that gives me enough extra fiber. - 9/1/2010   11:25:21 PM
  • 49
    To be honest, I never thought I had a problem with fiber. I started tracking it along with other things and I'm surprised that I have a really low intake. I don't want to always have beans either. I've been trying to read labels and eat more veges. In response to some of the comments, are you REALLY surprised at what the government is doing? Come cares very little for its citizens. Also, watch out for's a carcinogen. We all must take our own health into our own hands. - 9/1/2010   5:23:10 PM
  • 48
    After I switched to veganism, I was checking my diet stats. One day, I got to 60 grams of fiber without even trying! So, if you want to get lots of fiber in your diet, ditch the dairy and meat, which don't have any fiber at all. A vegan diet can be protein-rich, and you will retain your calcium better. - 8/31/2010   11:53:07 PM
  • 47
    I had no idea that there were different definitions of fiber...And sneaky ones at that! You can't go wrong with whole food! - 8/31/2010   9:52:33 PM
  • 46
    No, I didn't know about this barbarity. Fortunately I've been eating MORE whole grains, oats, & legumes in the past few years, & fewer prepared foods where these varieties of "fiber" might be introduced.

    Right now as I work in my office, my crockpot at home is simmering with chili made with dried kidney beans, fresh roma tomatoes, & herbs from my back porch. :-) - 8/31/2010   4:33:01 PM
  • 45
    OK, so I noticed this little gem of a trend while indulging in a childhood treat- fruit loops. Now a good source of fiber! Now, a sugar cereal that leaves a slimy aftertaste because of stealth fiber! Now, a marketing blitz by a cereal company which insists that it tastes exactly the same! Now, I do not buy fruit loops more than once a year, if that. When I do, it's certainly not because I want a high fiber treat, I mean really. All I want is a day or two remembering the forbidden treats of my childhood. So, basically, I'm boycotting all of Kellogg's "fiber enriched" cereals because I don't like trends being forced down my throat. As for my family's sweet high fiber choice, it's frosted mini wheat :-) the sugar is still less than many sugar cereals, and it's high in natural wheat fiber, whoo hoo! - 8/31/2010   1:17:39 PM
  • 44
    As a post-op gastric bypass patient, I have to track my protein, first and foremost, and get between 80-100 grams per day. My nutritionists specify that protein can come in the form of beans, meat (including fish), and dairy (including tofu). I don't count any other forms of protein in my diet, such as the protein in my Kashi cereal, because it is not a complete source of protein. Same goes for my fiber. I count the amount in my veggies, fruit, and whole grain sources (like rice, whole-grain pasta, and shredded wheat Kashi cereal), but not in the fiber-fortified foods that I sometimes eat. Therefore, when I read labels on food packages, I don't even bother looking at the fiber (unless it is for bread): generally I look at the ingredients first. If there's a long list of ingredients, and include a lot of sugar, fats, and lab-created chemicals, I put the package back on the shelf. When I look at bread packaging (including bagels, English muffins, and sandwich thins), I first look at the ingredients (IMHO, high fructose corn syrup should not be an ingredient in the bread that I eat), then the amount of fiber per serving (and the serving size!).

    BTW, I disagree with the woman who blames WW for using fiber in their points formula. As a former WW client, I remember being told that we could use our points to eat Oreos, or we could use them to eat healthy foods. I think that people know to use their points to eat healthy foods, and that if they want to lose weight, they shouldn't finagle the points system by eating fiber-fortified foods (like ice cream).

    For the record, my favorite fiber source is a colorful salad with dark greens, celery, cukes, red peppers, yellow peppers, and green peppers. A close second is a baked or mashed sweet potato. Yum! - 8/31/2010   12:44:21 PM
    My daughter eats it all the time. I'm skeptical but willing to try it. However, just like 7dusted, I will have to hide the package and make it when the family is not in site, or they will never even give it a chance. - 8/31/2010   11:52:25 AM
    I for one am getting pretty sick of the FDA confusing the utter you know what out of the public! I am sick of the manufacture's touting fiber in their cereals and whatnot.
    My number one rule: Whole foods before processed foods. Yes, that includes boxed cereal! Fruits and veggies. The FDA and other agencies related to the food supply are really beginning to aggravate me! Can anyone say let's do what Holland does? They are probably more healthy than the rest of us! - 8/31/2010   11:38:45 AM
  • 41
    It is getting to be a crazy place in order to have the government babysit us on our diets. Nothing is better than the ordinary run of the mill of fruits and vegetables. All this does is put hype on the fact that the confectionary companies can say, "Includes Fiber!" and fooling people who know no better.
    - 8/31/2010   10:51:46 AM
  • 40
    For a lot of folks with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) the type of fiber we eat can make a big difference. It's a good idea to read labels and ingredient lists. I generally try to stay away from fiber fortified types of items.

    There were a couple questions regarding the fiber supplements:
    Metamucil - psyllium (soluble fiber)
    Benefiber - wheat dextrin (soluble fiber)

    I believe they both come from natural sources so I would assume they would not be stealth fiber (not an expert here). It seems that Inulin, Polydextrose and Maltodextrin seem to be the main stealth fiber culprits. - 8/31/2010   10:13:58 AM
    My doctor has me off grains and cereals, so I take Metamucil for soluble fiber (yum! not!). I eat fresh fruits and vegetables for the insoluble variety. Manufactured, faux fibers? I'm not interested in funkily crafted stuff like that. - 8/31/2010   9:20:02 AM
  • SUNSET09
    I was not aware of the hidden fiber options in ice cream and yogurt and normally, depend on legumes and grain breads for my fiber. It's good to know, no matter how bad as it's as if there is always something to be cautious of and new discovers to research and to be mindful of. - 8/31/2010   8:52:35 AM
  • 37
    My favorite sources for fiber are fruits, veggies and whole grain cereals like Kashi. - 8/31/2010   8:29:53 AM
  • 36
    My favorite source of fibers is probably whole grain bread, and apples. Oh, and whole wheat pretzels... - 8/31/2010   6:20:28 AM
  • JEAN_W
    I had recently noticed snack bars touting inceased fiber. When I looked at the nutritional content to see how the fiber was increased, it was through adding chicory. I know what chicory is, I saw it growing by the road while growing up in California. Whether it's a good source of fiber, I couldn't say. So I've avoided it. I'm still confused about whether chicory is a good source of added fiber. In any case, I prefer to do as you suggest (thank you!) and stick to the traditional sources of "good fiber". - 8/31/2010   5:15:32 AM
  • FELICIA1963
    Wow - this is great information! - 8/31/2010   5:07:02 AM
  • 33
    This is good information. After reading the article recently about Stealth Fibers, I realized I was eating them in a favorite high fiber bar. It is tasty and filling...but after reading the label and giving them up, I have rid myself of the irritating gas that plagued me....not all fiber is created equal. Now I am reading labels even more fatithfully. Thanks again. - 8/31/2010   1:16:19 AM
  • 32
    I would like a coach to write the names of all the stealth fibers so we can check ingredient lists. - 8/30/2010   11:13:13 PM
    interesting - 8/30/2010   10:36:05 PM
  • 30
    same question as AprilBless "Now I'm even more confused. So where does my Benefiber and Metamucil supplementing come in?"
    - 8/30/2010   9:07:57 PM
  • 29
    I've become uncomfortably aware that not all fibers are created equal. I used to buy fiber-enriched 'fruit leathers' from Trader Joe's, and wondered why I felt so ill after eating them. The 'stealth fiber' article clarified that little problem, and I tossed the rest of the pack.

    I generally get fiber from whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and those make me feel well, not sick, so that's what I'll go on doing--and will avoid fiber-improved stuff the way I avoid almost all other artificially enriched stuff in supermarkets. - 8/30/2010   8:50:32 PM
  • 28
    Definition? -- No, I haven't noticed. Lable Changes? -- Again, no. My primary sources of fiber are legumes, whole grains, veggies, fruits, Sante Fe Tortillas (great sandwich wraps), and an occasional Fiber One bar. I'm having more difficulty reaching my SparkPeople minimum for potassium. - 8/30/2010   5:49:52 PM
  • SNASH33
    dear me. although i am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, i thought i was nutritionally intelligent. as the years go by, i learn more and more. first i learned about fiber needs and requirements. then the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber. and now this! it might be too much for my poor brain to handle. i'm diabetic, i have IBS and hyperlipidemia. my dh has blood pressure issues, my dd has an as-yet-to-be-determined digestive issue, and it is like rocket science trying to make sure everybody's dietary needs are being met. personally i think i'll make it easier on myself if i just stick to eating foods in the most natural form i can get them. if God made it, i should be able to eat it. if people/manufacturers start messing with it, it can't be as good for me. - 8/30/2010   4:47:43 PM
  • 26
    Made some edits to take out some of the technical definitions and terms to hopefully make it an easier read. As always the bottom line is your focus -
    1 - Fiber is important for health
    2 - Caution is necessary related to fiber in processed foods
    3 - Fiber from whole foods like oats, oat bran, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and dried beans are the still the best choices. - 8/30/2010   3:52:20 PM
  • 25
    A main point of the article is that the cereal industry is involved in this new labeling. I quit eating processed cereal. Occasionally I'll have steel cut or long cooking oatmeal. (no instant). Fortunately I have cut out processed food to such a degree and added fruits, vegetables, whole wheat or whole grain breads, beans, and other naturally high fiber foods that this should not effect me.
    Someone should re-write this article so everyone can understand it easily without a lot of thinking. It would reach more people if it was more concise. - 8/30/2010   3:30:14 PM
  • 24
    Surprise....surprise....more manipulation from our own government. Wish they'd just leave things alone!!! Didn't get much else out of this article. Too much confusing information for me. - 8/30/2010   2:41:46 PM
  • 23
    Thanks for this information. Very confusing but definately worth hearing. I think like many others that we should just stick with the real food. Buy local, fresh, in season and organic when possible. Stay away from processed foods as much as possible and continue to track for the best and most complete information possible. Home cooking is the key. Keep it simple. - 8/30/2010   2:07:28 PM
  • 22
    Thanks for the info. That means more for me to watch for when too much fiber gives me diarrhea since I have an ilieostomy. Is there any products that don't have artificial fiber anymore? - 8/30/2010   12:58:02 PM
  • JAY75REY
    As it was the "soluble" and "insoluble" labels were confusing to me. I'm glad that there may be clearer labels to distinguish manufactured fiber vs. dietary fiber. I'll be avoiding the "functional fiber" from now on.

    the marketing of functional fiber as a healthy addition to processed foods has been very deceptive. - 8/30/2010   12:36:57 PM
  • SHB1964
    A lot to digest in this post - no pun intended! I kinda wondered what sort of fiber could possibly be included in those little 4 oz yogurt cups. Seems like something with good, usable fiber ought to taste more like tree bark, not sweet and smooth yogurt! Guess I'll just stick with what my grandparents did - eat as much plain, unadulterated stuff as possible.

    With the occasional high-fiber toaster pastry in Chocolate Fudge! - 8/30/2010   11:55:36 AM
  • 19
    SOYLANT GREEN! - 8/30/2010   11:46:33 AM
  • 18
    Now I'm even more confused. So where does my Benefiber and Metamucil supplementing come in? - 8/30/2010   11:31:07 AM
  • 17
    I'm getting disgusted by all the manipulations that are happening to our food supply. It's scary, and dangerous, and more frightening that our governing and regulating agencies are complicit because there's profit to be made...

    Grow your own if you can. If you can't, buy local and organic, if at all possible. - 8/30/2010   11:24:58 AM
  • 16
    What an awful blog! The terminology is too dense and multisyllabic, the point is totally lost. Why not say what you mean in easy to understand terms? - 8/30/2010   11:20:16 AM
  • 15
    Am I the only who feels like prescriptive programs like WeightWatchers bear part of the blame here? (And yes, I know they aren't strictly prescriptive, in that people have a choice, but the choice is generally based off their patented equation). They establish a formula which includes a fairly vaguely defined term like "fiber" as part of their points equation. Seems pretty clear to me that as the program gets more adoption, that food manufacturers (including WeightWatcher's own branded line of food) would look to "game the system" by tweaking the ingredients such that their Giant Fudge Bars weigh in with 5 grams of fiber to lower the advertised point total down to 1. Personally, I very much prefer tracking my calories/fat/carbs/fiber independently and shoot for a balance focused on "real food" ingredients as opposed to all the "food like substances" typically found in processed food. - 8/30/2010   11:12:17 AM
  • 14
    Thanks for the info. I was confused and overwhelmed just reading the new information and thinking what will our poor children do long after we are gone. Will their diet become totally factory made in the next few decades? It is scary to think about. Thanks for the tip/reminder to stick with fruits, vegetables and dry beans to account for our fiber intake. I will pass this information on to my children to combat this food mislabeling epidemic. - 8/30/2010   10:51:46 AM
  • 13
    wel then what about Skinny Cow Ice Cream that Spark so ever lovingly has promote themselves on here. Is that the processed food fiber you are talking about? So its not GOOD? Im confused.... - 8/30/2010   10:50:47 AM
  • 12
    I was not aware. I thought that I had it down with "soluble" and "insoluble" but then I read about inulin and got completely confused. - 8/30/2010   10:38:48 AM
  • 11
    I also was not aware of this fiber info! I agree with the ladies here...does anyone in the food industry have a brain. Oh wait they to make money any way possible with no regard for peoples health. This fiber issue is another reason to try even hard to steer clear of processed foods. Thanks for the info!! - 8/30/2010   10:18:34 AM
  • 10
    Thanks for the information! My main sources of fiber are whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This is one of the reasons that I'm studying to become a dietician. I want people to understand that it's not the same if you just create some food in a lab and add back in nutrients. Our bodies are meant to absorb nutrients this way!! - 8/30/2010   10:15:51 AM
    The nice thing about using dried beans is that you control what else has gone into the bean product. You can also cook them to the degree you want, which makes it more flexible when adding other ingredients in your recipe. Many wonderful bean varieties are available dried that you can't obtain from canned. Rancho Gardo beans are an example of a company with many varieties and great taste. Their beans are under a year old, which means great taste. - 8/30/2010   10:14:06 AM
  • 8
    Wow. I was not aware of this! Thank you for posting. - 8/30/2010   9:58:54 AM
  • 7
    Thanks for the info Tanya. I think the FDA means well, but might be sacrificing clarity for specificity with their new classifications of fiber. And of course, special interests will always aim to have their view point shape public policy (for better or worse). Ultimately keeping it simple by eating whole, fresh foods will just make your life easier.

    @Tabu077: I think by "dry bean" she's just using the generic term for the common bean, as opposed to a green/fresh bean. So a canned kidney bean or chick pea is pretty much the same as a dried and reconstituted one. - 8/30/2010   9:41:18 AM

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