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The Truth About Fiber

By Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD

Despite fiber’s many nutritional and health benefits, it doesn’t necessarily have the most glamorous of reputations. But fiber is definitely worthy of some serious love! It’s time to start myth-busting.

Myth: Fiber tastes terrible.

Reality: Until recently, fiber may have brought to mind dry, tasteless bran products that are hard to swallow. The truth is that fiber is found in many delicious foods including fresh fruit, crunchy vegetables, nuts, cereals, breads, pasta and legumes. Food companies are also jumping on the high-fiber band-wagon

and have introduced delicious fiber-rich items to the marketplace including yogurt, chocolate, snack bars, cookies, crackers, and even orange juice. Never has it been so easy, or so delicious, to eat a high-fiber diet.


Reality: Nope. While eating too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, fiber is the secret to eating carbohydrates and shedding pounds. Fiber is the zero-calorie, indigestible component of carbohydrates. The more fiber a food contains, the less digestible carbohydrates (net carbohydrates) there are. It is the net carbohydrate, not the total carbohydrate, that gets converted into glucose. If you have too much glucose, the excess gets converted into fat and stored as fat. High-fiber carbohydrates have lower net carbohydrates than foods that contain no fiber. In addition, fiber adds texture, bulk, and chewing satisfaction, which aids in consuming fewer calories yet still feeling full. The longer you feel full after a meal, the less likely you are to overeat later on, leading ultimately to weight loss. Fiber is truly a dieter’s secret weapon.

Myth: Salads are a great source of fiber.

Reality: Many people falsely believe that lettuce and salads are good sources of fiber. The truth is lettuce contains very little fiber! (Approximately 1 gram per cup.)

Iceberg 0.77g
Romaine 0.95g
Radicchio 0.36g
Arugula 0.32g
Bibb, Boston, Butter 0.55g
Endive 1.55g

Although lettuce itself isn’t a high-fiber food, a mixed salad filled with beans and vegetables is a great way to get fiber in your diet. Think of lettuce as the foundation, and add other fiber-rich vegetables and legumes to it. Adding ½ cup of garbanzo beans, ½ cup broccoli, a few carrots and slices of red pepper, and you just increased the fiber content by approximately 10 grams!

What Grandma calls “roughage,” scientists call “fiber.” Roughage and fiber are both terms used to describe the indigestible part of carbohydrates found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Many people mistakenly believe that all vegetables are roughage and therefore contain large amounts of fiber. The reality is that not all vegetables are good sources of fiber. For example, broccoli, asparagus, and spinach are all good sources of fiber, while lettuce, cucumbers, and celery have very little fiber. Don’t assume that just because a food is a vegetable it contains a lot of fiber.

Myth: All fruits are good sources of fiber.

Reality: While all fruits contain some fiber, some pack a bigger punch than others. Fruits you eat with the skin on, like apples and pears, tend to have more fiber than fruits you peel, like oranges and bananas. Fruits with seeds are filled with fiber, which makes raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, figs, and blackberries all great choices. While dried fruit is a good source of fiber, be careful with the quantities since they pack a lot of calories and are sometimes sold in sugar-added varieties. Canned fruit has the least amount of fiber since it is peeled and processed, so stick with fresh fruit whenever possible.

Myth: It is impossible to get enough fiber from foods alone. Fiber supplements like powders and pills are a great way to get my daily fiber requirement.

Reality: While powders and pills can add fiber to your diet, getting your fiber from foods is generally better for your health. Fiber supplements don’t give you the crunchy satisfaction and feeling of fullness that comes from eating fiber-rich foods. The bottom line is, it’s best to try to satisfy your fiber needs with foods. Save fiber supplements for when you simply cannot make the recommended intake or if your doctor prescribes them.

Myth: All dark breads and wheat products are a good source of fiber.

Reality: Just because the label says “whole wheat” or “made with whole grains,” does not mean a food is high in fiber. Many breads and cereals claim to be made from whole grains and yet contain very little fiber. Some brown breads are part whole wheat and part white flour with caramel coloring added to make them appear more wholesome. Read the ingredient label to be sure. Look for items made from 100 percent whole wheat — these will have the most fiber. Select breads with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.

Myth: Eating high-fiber foods will make you feel bloated.

Reality: People who typically eat a low-fiber diet may experience some initial minor bloating and abdominal cramps when they begin to eat large amounts of fiber. It is important to introduce fiber-rich foods slowly. For the few patients that do experience discomfort, it goes away within a few days as their bodies become accustomed to eating fiber on a daily basis.

Myth: It is possible to eat too much fiber.

Reality: Some health experts believe that eating more than 50 grams of fiber per day may adversely affect vitamin and mineral absorption. While this is technically true, rarely does anyone consume anywhere near that amount of fiber. Most of us don’t eat even the small amount we need (25-30 grams/day). However, if you want to increase your fiber intake, make sure you’re drinking enough water. Don’t let the fear of becoming nutrient deficient stop you from boosting your fiber intake. The benefits of fiber far outweigh the remote possibility that you will eat quantities large enough to pose any problem.

Myth: If I’m not constipated, I don’t need to worry about fiber.

Reality: This is certainly false! Just because you are regular does not mean you are getting enough fiber. Fiber does much more than relieve occasional constipation. Not only does a high-fiber diet help keep your digestive system healthy, it may reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, adult-onset diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. A high-fiber diet is also the healthiest way to lose weight and keep it off.

Myth: Fiber-rich foods are found only in health food stores, not in my local supermarket.

Reality: Your local supermarket is filled with high-fiber foods! Aside from the fresh fruits and vegetables, the shelves are stocked with high-fiber foods including breads, cold and hot cereals, high-fiber bars, cookies, popcorn, whole-wheat pretzels, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, crackers, nuts, and much more. And as fiber awareness continues to grow, you can expect to see even more high-fiber products introduced to the marketplace in the months to come.

Thanks for reading. Hope this helped!

For more from Tanya, visit her website, F-Factor, follow her on Twitter @F_Factor or head to her Facebook page.