Fiber and Grains

Not All Fiber Is Created Equal

April 6, 2018   /


Anne Danahy, MS, RDN, LDN


What You’ll See on the New Food Labels

As most registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are aware, the nutrition facts label on packaged food products will soon have a new look, thanks to the final rule for the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2016 updates to the Nutrition Facts food labels. Consumers will begin to see these labels within the year, but smaller food manufacturers may have until 2021 to fully comply. The news that portion size, calories, and grams of added sugar will be highlighted on the new labels has received much attention, but other important changes about fiber have also been approved, and this presents an opportunity for dietitians to educate about an important nutrient.


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Interest versus consumption

Fiber is an underconsumed nutrient, and this is considered a public health concern because of its impact on overall health. The mean daily intake of fiber in the U.S. is 17 g/day, which is significantly lower than the recommended Adequate Intake (AI) of 14 g/1000 kcal, or about 25 g/day for adult women and 38 g/day for adult males. Currently only 5% of the population meets their AI goals. 2,7


In their annual Food and Health survey, the International Food Information Council found that consumers identify fiber as one of the healthiest components of a food. 1 Food manufacturers often address this interest and demand by adding “isolated,” sometimes known as functional fiber, to foods such as snack bars, cereals or yogurt, to either boost their existing fiber content or to make a low-fiber food appear more nutritious. Previously, fiber could be isolated from any source, added to foods, and counted toward the food’s fiber content on its nutrition facts label. While intact fiber (the fiber that occurs naturally in plant foods) has known health benefits, some of these isolated or synthetic fibers do not provide similar health benefits, yet manufacturers could declare them as fiber on the nutrition facts label.


The FDA’s new ruling

In their 2016 updates to the nutrition facts label, the FDA set a new regulatory definition for dietary fiber, and because of fiber’s wide range of health benefits, it also increased the daily recommended value (DRV) from 25 g to 28 g – a change that could impact a product’s fiber labeling claims.


Under the update, dietary fiber is defined as “non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates (with 3 or more monomeric units), and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants; isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with 3 or more monomeric units) determined by FDA to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.”


Naturally occurring fiber that is intrinsic and intact in foods such as whole grains, automatically meets this new definition, but now if a food manufacturer wishes to declare fiber from an isolated or synthetic source, they are tasked with petitioning the FDA to consider scientific proof of its health claim. 5


NEXT: What passed the fiber definition test