Is Added Fiber Actually Helpful?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
high-fiberFood manufacturers are putting fiber into everything they can, but is it doing anyone any good? NPR recently aired an interesting story about this, which points out that just because high-fiber foods (vegetables, nuts, etc.) are associated with positive health outcomes, this doesn't mean it's the fiber that does it. There are whole constellations of nutrients in whole foods that we don't know much (or in some cases, anything) about, and there's very little evidence that fiber in and of itself is a magic bullet, at least in well-controlled studies. Furthermore, even if fiber *in foods* is a good thing, that doesn't mean that adding fiber to other foods will improve them. As the scientist in the NPR piece said, "I don't want people to think that by adding things to unhealthy foods, it somehow makes them healthy." Amen.

For low-carbers, there is another issue, which is that a lot of low-carb products have substituted various types of fiber for starches or even sugars. This may be OK in some cases, but there are products which strip fibers out of one plant (such as inulin or oligofructose from chicory root) and put them into a food such as a low-carb snack bar. Although this seems fine for a lot of people, others report that this "fiber" actually raises their blood sugar. So the inulin, in this case, may not be acting like fiber for everyone.

The one area where I've seen more evidence for a positive effect of fiber alone is fermentable fiber's contribution to the "flora" in our colon. This, in turn, can have many other beneficial effects. I've written about this here and here. And certainly it helps in avoiding constipation!

Photo: Oppenheim Bernhard/Getty Images

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