Filling Up: The Benefits of Fiber in Our Diet

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FiberWith the FDA’s changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel, a few nutrients have been getting more press lately. One of those is fiber.
We all hear that we need more fiber in our diets and so we try to eat more beans and whole grains. But, there seems to be an overall lack of understanding about what fiber is and what it does.

Fiber is a non-digestible material found in the plant-based foods we eat. Because our bodies don’t break fiber down, it helps in a variety of digestive functions. What those functions are and how they are beneficial to our health depends on if we’re talking about soluble or insoluble fiber.

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is fiber that dissolves in water. In the stomach, soluble fiber draws in water and creates a gel-like substance that slows down digestion and keeps you feeling full longer, thereby helping with weight regulation. Some types of soluble fiber may slow absorption of dietary cholesterol, which could lower LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of sugar and can help control diabetes.

Soluble fibers are found in:

  • Grains – oatmeal, oat bran, barley
  • Legumes – black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, dried peas
  • Vegetables – cucumbers, celery, carrots, Brussels sprouts, turnips, sweet potatoes, asparagus
  • Fruit – apricots, apples, grapefruit, mangoes, pears, strawberries, oranges
  • Flaxseed

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Instead, because it remains intact, it helps food and waste pass quickly through the digestive system. This helps regulate bowel movements and prevents constipation.

Insoluble fibers are found in:

  • Grains – bran, amaranth, whole-wheat
  • Legumes – lima beans
  • Vegetables – cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, onions, bell peppers
  • Fruit – dates, prunes, apple skins
  • Popcorn

Fiber is a mandatory label nutrient. In 2016, the FDA finalized the new Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label for packaged foods and supplements to reflect new scientific information. The final rule incorporated two major changes to the dietary fiber declaration—a definition of “dietary fiber,” a term that FDA had not previously defined, and an increase in the DRV from 25 grams to 28 grams.

These changes have been incorporated into our Genesis R&D Food Analysis & Labeling software.