You might think that fiber simply refers to components of food plants that cannot be digested by human enzymes and are excreted in feces.
No such luck.
Like everything else in nutrition, fiber is complicated, not least because intestinal bacteria can digest some of those components and produce nutrients we can use.
In May, the FDA said that naturally occurring dietary fibers such as those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains—and 7 specific isolated or synthetic fibers—could be declared on the label under “Dietary Fiber.”
The FDA defines fiber as (no, I’m not kidding):
non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units), and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants; isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) determined by FDA to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.
The isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates said to have beneficial effects are:
- [beta]-glucan soluble fiber
- psyllium husk
- guar gum
- locust bean gum
- hydroxypropyl methylcellulose
Cows and termites can digest cellulose. We can’t. But the FDA has evidence that they do other good things, for example, like lowering cholesterol.
The makers of processed foods love using these fiber additives for their various texturizing properties—and also because they can claim them as fiber on the label.
Now the FDA wants help in understanding whether 26 other kinds of isolated and synthetic fibers qualify as “Dietary Fiber” on food labels and, if so, what their beneficial effects on health might be.
The mind boggles. This is another reason to stick with fruits, vegetables, and grains.
The comment period for the Request for Information opens on November 23, 2016 and will be open for 45 days.
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