New Nutrition Facts: The Fiber Debate

Monday, February 6, 2017

 

Superfood

By Daniel Preiato, BS, DTR, Contributing Blogger 

As you may have heard, the FDA is in the process of implementing a new nutrition facts label. Most food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to comply with the changes, while manufacturers earning less than $10 million in annual food sales have until July 26, 2019. One area of major concern has been the new regulations on dietary fiber.

Dietary Fiber

There are two main types, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is soft and sticky, and absorbs water to form a gel-like substance inside the digestive system. Food items like oats, barley and beans contain soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is often referred to as “roughage,” or the tough matter found in whole grains, nuts, and fruits and veggies (specifically in the stalks, skins, and seeds). Both types of fiber have a great impact on digestive and overall health, which is why the new guidelines recommend 28 grams per day, as opposed to the prior recommendation of 25 grams.

FDA Definition

In May of 2016 the FDA published a final rule that included the definition of dietary fiber for the new nutrition facts label. They defined dietary fiber as: 

“Non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants; isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates determined by FDA to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.”

This change means that in addition to the non-digestible fiber carbohydrates found in plants, certain isolated or synthetic fibers that the FDA deems beneficial to health can also be included on the food label. Prior to this change, the FDA did not have a concrete definition of what is considered dietary fiber. The following 7 fibers are the FDA-approved isolated or synthetic fibers:

  • Beta-glucan (soluble) Foods: cereals, baked goods, bakers yeast
  • Psyllium husk (mostly soluble) Foods: ice cream (as thickener), cereals, baked goods
  • Cellulose (insoluble) Foods: Some syrups, pancake mix, frozen waffles, shredded cheese
  • Guar gum (soluble) Foods: cheeses, soft ice cream, instant puddings
  • Pectin(soluble) Foods: Jelly, jam, reduced fat cheese, dried pastas, soups
  • Locust bean gum (soluble) Foods: ice cream, prepackaged milk shakes, yogurts
  • Hydroxypropylmethcellulose(soluble) Foods: Gluten free foods, salad dressing, sauces

Referred to as ‘functional fibers’, most of these fibers are isolated versions of naturally occurring ones that have been added to foods. According to an article published in Today’s Dietitian, “Isolated fibers lack the natural components that may contribute synergistically to the benefit of the fiber itself.” While added fiber may improve the nutritive value of certain foods, health benefits may differ when the fiber is isolated. The general recommendation is to get most of your fiber from whole food sources. While functional fibers are convenient, they may not have the same health benefits as whole foods in regards to long-term health.

Regardless of which fibers are approved by the FDA, it is important to be aware of food ingredients as a consumer. This means analyzing nutrition facts and ingredient panels with a critical eye and making smart food choices. While there may be some debate over what should be considered dietary fiber, the FDA is attempting to collect scientific data to prove which fibers are beneficial to human health. As more data is presented, additional fibers may be approved and included on the new labels.

Daniel Preiato, BS, DTR is a recent graduate of New York University with a bachelors degree in Nutrition and Food Studies. He is currently completing a distance dietetic internship with Priority Nutrition Care. Daniel’s concentration is in sports dietetics and culinary nutrition but he also works with the general population. Check out his website to find out more!

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