Q. Is added fiber as good for you as natural fiber?
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A. Americans, on average, get only 15 grams of fiber each day. It’s recommended that women get 25 grams daily and men 38. Fiber is naturally found in beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains… and now it’s added to ice cream and sugary breakfast cereals (e.g., Apple Jacks and Froot Loops) too. About 100 new foods with added fiber hit U.S. grocery shelves annually, according to Mintel, a leading market research company. But does “added fiber” have the same health benefits?
“Any increase in fiber intake is positive,” says Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., R.D., of the University of Minnesota. “If the only way you’ll get enough fiber is by adding it to foods, it’s still beneficial. If someone’s going to eat Apple Jacks, I’d rather have it be Apple Jacks with fiber than without.”
That said, there are actually many specific types of fibers, all of which have unique health benefits. For example, beta glucan, a soluble fiber in oats and barley, traps dietary cholesterol and “escorts” it out of your body as waste. Fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), another soluble fiber, in fruits, helps keep you regular by feeding the “good” bacteria in your digestive system. And while foods naturally rich in fiber usually contain a mixture of different fibers, foods with added fiber generally only have one type, such as beta glucan or FOS.
Bottom Line: “Ideally people should eat naturally fiber-rich foods because they contain a mix of different fibers as well as important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,” says Slavin. Get your fiber from natural sources first, such as beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Then use foods with “added fiber” to boost you to the recommended intake level.