January 11, 2010

LA Times Weighs in on Functional Fibers

In today's LA Times Health section, columnist Elena Conis tackled the functional vs. intact fiber conundrum facing today's food consumers. Her article, All fibers may not be created equal looked at the lack of evidence that adding fiber to foods from sources like inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose conveys the same health benefits as intact fiber from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

As covered in a previous post on this blog - functional fibers are also called isolated fibers. They are often added to foods that aren't naturally high in fiber in order to boost the food's presumed fiber content. Increasingly, you see isolated fibers added to traditionally low fiber foods, there's High Fiber V8 Vegetable Juice, Progresso High Fiber Canned Soups and most recently, Fiber One's High Fiber Cottage Cheese. While these added fibers may increase the total grams of dietary fiber on a Nutrition Facts Panel, it remains undetermined as to whether or not they are as beneficial for cholesterol lowering, weight loss and blood sugar regulation as are intact fibers.

In the article, both the director of clinical dietetics at the Mayo Clinic and a spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition confirm what almost all other nutrition professionals do: if you wish to receive the health benefits of dietary fiber, it is better to choose foods that are naturally high in fiber than low fiber foods with fiber added to them. The article goes on to say that isolated or added fibers oftentimes lack vitamins, minerals, plant components and antioxidants that are often found in their whole food counterparts.