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Bulking Up Fiber's Healthful Reputation<

Bulking Up Fiber's Healthful Reputation<
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Bulking Up Fiber's
Healthful Reputation
by Ruth Papazian

A Reprint from FDA Consumer Magazine

More Benefits

of 'Roughage'

Are Discovered

Because it causes gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable side effects, fiber may be the Rodney Dangerfield of food constituents. But with more and more research showing that a high-fiber diet may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments, roughage has started to get some respect.

The problem is that most Americans don't get enough fiber to realize its potential benefits. The typical American eats only about 11 grams of fiber a day, according to the American Dietetic Association. Health experts recommend a minimum of 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day for most people.

The Food and Drug Administration has recognized fiber's importance by requiring it to be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of food labels along with other key nutrients and calories. And, based on scientific evidence, the agency has approved four claims related to fiber intake and lowered risk of heart disease and cancer.

The most recent claim, approved in January 1997, allows food companies to state on product labels that foods with soluble fiber from whole oats may reduce heart disease risk when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Foods covered include rolled oats, oat bran, and whole-oat flour.

FDA concluded that the beta-glucan soluble fiber of whole oats is the primary component responsible for lowering total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or "bad," blood cholesterol in diets including these foods at appropriate levels. This conclusion is based on a scientific review showing a link between the soluble fiber in whole-oat foods and a reduction in coronary heart disease risk.

Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol
and high in fiber are associated with a
reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes,
digestive disorders, and heart disease.

The other three claims, allowed since 1993, are:

Found only in plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, fiber is composed of complex carbohydrates. Some fibers are soluble in water and others are insoluble. Most plant foods contain some of each kind.

Some foods containing high levels of soluble fiber are dried beans, oats, barley, and some fruits, notably apples and citrus, and vegetables, such as potatoes. Foods high in insoluble fiber are wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables.

Fiber's Health Benefits

What can fiber do for you? Numerous epidemiologic (population-based) studies have found that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, digestive disorders, and heart disease. However, since high-fiber foods may also contain antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, and other substances that may offer protection against these diseases, researchers can't say for certain that fiber alone is responsible for the reduced health risks they observe, notes Joyce Saltsman, a nutritionist with FDA's Office of Food Labeling. "Moreover, no one knows whether one specific type of fiber is more beneficial than another since fiber-rich foods tend to contain various types," she adds.

Recent findings on the health effects of fiber show it may play a role in:



Printed July 1997. This article originally appeared in the July-August 1997 FDA Consumer.


Department of Health And Human Services . Public Health Service . Food and Drug Administration

FDA on the Internet:

We hope you found this reprint from FDA Consumer magazine useful and informative FDA Consumer, the magazine of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, provides a wealth of information on FDA-related health issues: food safety, nutrition, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, radiation protection, vaccines, blood products, and vetrinary medicine. For a sample copy of FDA Consumer and a subscription order form, write to: Food and Drug Administration, HFI-40, Rockville, MD 20857.

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