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Identifying Practical Solutions to Meet America’s Fiber Needs: Proceedings from the Food & Fiber Summit

Abstract: Fiber continues to be singled out as a nutrient of public health concern. Adequate intakes of fiber are associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, certain gastrointestinal disorders and obesity. Despite ongoing efforts to promote adequate fiber through increased vegetable, fruit and whole-grain intakes, average fiber consumption has remained flat at approximately half of the recommended daily amounts. Research indicates that consumers report increasingly attempting to add fiber-containing foods, but there is confusion around fiber in whole grains. The persistent and alarmingly low intakes of fiber prompted the “Food & Fiber Summit,” which assembled nutrition researchers, educators and communicators to explore fiber’s role in public health, current fiber consumption trends and consumer awareness data with the objective of generating opportunities and solutions to help close the fiber gap. The summit outcomes highlight the need to address consumer confusion and improve the understanding of sources of fiber, to recognize the benefits of various types of fibers and to influence future dietary guidance to provide prominence and clarity around meeting daily fiber recommendations through a variety of foods and fiber types. Potential opportunities to increase fiber intake were identified, with emphasis on meal occasions and food categories that offer practical solutions for closing the fiber gap.

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Alex’s Notes: Fiber consumption needs work. No joke. The Institute of Medicine claims the adequate intake of fiber is 25-38 grams per day, and yet Americans haven’t been able to even achieve this recommendation in the last two decades. Of course, most Americans believe they are in fact consuming enough fiber despite not knowing what good sources of fiber are.

Fiber is important for health. I’m not going to discuss this in any detail because the evidence is so strong and universal. Even those without any knowledge in nutrition or health would agree that fiber is healthy. To emphasize this point,

“Recent research on the economic impact of fiber intake on reducing constipation in the U.S. demonstrated a $12.7 billion direct cost savings in treating functional constipation if adults increased their fiber intake by 9 g/day to recommended levels [27]. This economic model further demonstrated that even if only 50% of the adult population increased dietary fiber intake by 3 g/day, the annual medical cost savings exceeded $2 billion [27].”

So how do we get more fiber in our diets? The mainstream would have you believe that whole grains are the answer. Most notably the bran, they have been shown to be associated with a reduced risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. However, although the scientific evidence continues to evolve regarding the health benefits of whole grains, current evidence suggests that the benefits of consuming whole grains may in large part be due to the fiber content and to the phytochemicals embedded in the bran, along with the fiber. Thus, it stands to reason that vegetables and fruits such as berries, all of which have more fiber per unit of weight, volume of food, and usable energy than whole grains would be a far better choice.

Unfortunately, grains contribute nearly half of the current intakes of fiber with vegetables only contributing 16%. That is pathetic. Worse yet, poor labelling regulations make companies able to deceive those who seek out whole grains to increase fiber consumption. Claims such as “whole grain” deceive the consumer into believing it is a good source of fiber when in fact it is not. This lack of regulation has been identified as a main contributor to the fiber deficiency in American diets.

People need more fiber. If only we could abandon the whole grain message all together and simply say to eat more vegetables. How can that be confusing?

 
 

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