Eat Your Porridge – it’s Good for You

The debate about fiber has gone up and down and now up again. When we were first told to increase the fiber in our diets most of us didn’t even know we were eating it. When it was explained that fiber was the new word for roughage we started to understand. Over the years as more and more processed foods appeared on the grocery shelves, food scientists could measure the drop in the amount of fiber we were eating. Fiber became a hot topic in nutrition and health circles when possible links between dietary fiber and chronic diseases, particularly heart disease were suggested. Many were skeptical when the low incidence of heart disease in non-western populations that were consuming high levels of fiber in their diets were reported. As the links between dietary fiber and blood cholesterol levels were established, the potential benefits of fiber in the diet became more accepted.

However, like many areas of medical science, there began a period of much confusion. Study results that showed positive effects of fiber were followed very often by studies that showed little or no effect. The problem often lay in the use of the term fiber itself. It was up to the food scientists to point out that the term fiber is in fact a very vague one. The amount of fiber measured in a food often depends on the method used in the analysis. And if you really want to get technical there is soluble fiber and non-soluble fiber which have different structures, chemistries and metabolic actions. It is the soluble fiber in general and beta-glucan in particular that appears to be the active agent against heart disease.

Recently (January , 1997) the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) announced that it would allow health claims on foods that contained adequate levels of soluble fiber from such sources as oat bran or oatmeal. Any food that contains at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving is now allowed to declare on its label :

"Soluble fiber from foods such as oat bran, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

The USFDA insisted on reference to a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol to prevent consumers from concluding that only increased consumption of fiber was sufficient to reduce the risk of heart disease. It seems that once again mom was right. Start the day off with a good warm bowl of oatmeal. It’s good for your health.

Other articles on fiber §

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