Niha Zubair, Arivale Clinical Research Scientist, PhD
Dietary fibers can help you prevent or relieve constipation, maintain a healthy weight, and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. And, as far as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned, there are now eight more of them.
On June 14, in a move covered by Politico, the FDA issued guidance and a supporting science review identifying eight additional non-digestible carbohydrates it proposes meet the definition of “dietary fiber” for the purposes of Nutrition Facts labels.
But, do these new dietary fibers have the same health benefits as those typically found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes?
The New Fibers
The eight additional dietary fibers include:
- mixed plant cell wall fibers (a broad category that includes fibers like sugar cane fiber and apple fiber, among many others)
- arabinoxylan (derived from cereal grains)
- alginate (derived from seaweed)
- inulin and inulin-type fructans (derived from chicory root)
- high amylose starch
- galactooligosaccharide (derived from milk sugar)
- resistant maltodextrin/dextrin
The health effects associated with these newly classified fibers vary. Some of them, such as arabinoxylan and alginate, have been shown to have benefits on blood sugar regulation. Others, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides, were found to have benefits for calcium absorption and bone health. Polydextrose was found to have appetite-suppressing effects.
In most cases, products won’t be able to make a health claim based on these new fibers unless they go through an additional process with the FDA. But, they will be able to add the newly approved fibers to the total fiber listed on their nutrition labels.
The FDA notes that fiber-containing fruits, vegetables, and grain products, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, can help lower cholesterol levels, and may help reduce calorie intake.
However, this new FDA guidance doesn’t actually pertain to fiber-containing fruits, vegetables, and grain products. Rather, it pertains to isolated compounds that are typically added to processed and packaged foods. While isolated fibers may have some health benefits, as reviewed in the FDA’s scientific review, packaged and processed food, per se, generally do not.
We agree that a high-fiber diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, and grains as whole foods is a foundation of overall good health. While fibers added to processed and packaged foods may have some benefits, in general processed and refined foods have typically less health value than whole foods and may be laden with sugar and fat.
As noted in the Politico article, some health advocates – including Arivale – are concerned that the FDA’s move to classify new dietary fibers will allow the food industry to convince consumers that some processed foods are more healthful than they actually are.
You may have noticed that most of the new fibers approved for addition to nutrition labels are chemical-sounding tongue-twisters. A good rule of thumb is to avoid foods with ingredients that can’t be pronounced by an average fifth-grader – or that wouldn’t be recognized as “food” by your great-grandmother.
The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily, but some research suggests that up to 50 grams per day may be most protective against cardiovascular disease and digestive concerns. Click here to find out how much fiber is in the foods you eat.
[Arivale Hot Topics address health stories currently in the news. The Arivale Clinical Team’s commentary on these news articles is not a review of the scientific evidence, nor an endorsement of a specific study, and is not meant as official medical opinion.]