Is Added Fiber as Healthy as Naturally Occurring Fiber?

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Hi Hungry Girl,

It seems like there are a lot of snacks on shelves with added fiber. Is this type of fiber just as good for me as natural fiber?

Flummoxed by Fiber

Is Added Fiber as Healthy as Naturally Occurring Fiber?

Dear Flummoxed,

Good question! The short answer is that while there is a difference between naturally occurring fiber and added fiber, both types can help you feel full, which is great for weight loss and maintenance. But the natural type is likely best for overall health. For the long answer, read on...

First, some fiber 101. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, so it provides fewer calories than the same amount of other carbs (like sugars and starches). It's also known to increase feelings of fullness and keep hunger at bay. Low calorie count + high satisfaction = one great nutrient!

So many healthy and delicious foods are naturally high in fiber. Think beans, grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. A cup of raspberries has a whopping 8 grams of fiber, and a 12-oz. bag of broccoli cole slaw has around 12 grams of fiber. Nice!

Now, about added fiber... Also called functional fiber, it's generally extracted from plants or animals, isolated, and then added to manufactured products. Polydextrose, maltodextrin, and inulin are all considered functional fibers. And while they don't occur naturally in the foods they're added to, they are usually derived from natural sources.

If you're eating fiber to help you feel full, the functional kind is likely to do the trick just as well as the natural kind. Like natural fiber, added fiber is resistant to digestion. And studies have shown that both kinds are filling and have appetite-suppressing effects.

The drawback to functional fiber? Foods with added fiber aren't going to have the same impressive array of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants found in "whole" foods like beans, grains, fruits, and veggies. Plus, there doesn't appear to be any evidence that added fiber has the same heart-related benefits as the natural type. 

Expert advice: Get the majority of your fiber from natural sources, and incorporate added fibers as a bonus. Research actually suggests people are more likely to get the recommended amount of fiber if they look to both sources. If you're choosing between an apple and a fiber-boosted brownie, the apple is almost certainly the better choice. But if you need a decadent dessert fix, a high-fiber brownie is a great alternative to the average slab of chocolate cake... especially if said brownie is low in calories and portion controlled!

When in doubt, trust your gut... literally. Everyone reacts differently to food, so pay attention to how each type of fiber makes you feel. If whole foods satisfy you more than packaged foods with added fiber, stick to apples and oatmeal. If both kinds of fiber make you feel full, eat a bowl of high-fiber cereal with raspberries thrown on top for good measure!


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