Nutrition-wise blog

Formulating fiber-rich foods

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. June 13, 2009

Gritty drinks and giant pills used to be the only way to supplement the fiber in your diet. Now there are many more appealing options for getting extra fiber. Indeed, fiber seems to be in just about everything — from yogurt to white bread. Have you checked the ingredients on some of these "high-fiber" foods? If so, you've probably seen chicory root fiber — also called inulin — listed as one of the ingredients.

Inulin has health benefits similar to those of fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains:

  • Prevents constipation
  • Helps maintain healthy balance of bacteria in the colon
  • Lowers blood cholesterol levels

But why is inulin added to so many foods? Because it adds fiber without adding unwanted taste or texture. Inulin also has the advantage of having a smooth, creamy feeling in our mouth like fat. So food manufacturers can use it as a fat replacement in ice creams, margarines and dressings. With these properties, it sneaks past us as undetected fiber in yogurt and other foods.

Sounds good, right? Sure, but you still need fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. These whole foods offer much more than just fiber. They're rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants and other health-promoting, disease-fighting nutrients that you don't get from "extracted then added" fibers such as inulin.

What do think of food manufacturers finding ways to add fiber into any and all foods? Are these foods part of your diet? Or are you more traditional? I confess that I'm not planning on giving up my real fruit and yogurt breakfast any time soon.

June 13, 2009