The FDA Will Decide If These 26 Ingredients Count As Fiber – 90.3 KAZU

What counts as dietary fiber? That’s up for debate.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing 26 ingredients that food manufacturers use to bulk up the fiber content of processed foods to determine if there’s a health benefit.

If you’re a nutrition-label reader, the list includes some familiar-ish sounding ingredients — such as inulin, which is often sourced from chicory root.

Other ingredients on the “do-these-count-as-fiber?” list include gum acacia, bamboo fiber, retrograded corn starch, and — get ready for a tongue-twister — xylooligosaccharides. Some of these fibers are extracted from plant sources, while others are synthetic.

Some critics argue that the FDA should not allow these added fibers to count as fiber on nutrition facts labels.

“The food industry has hijacked the advice to eat more fiber by putting isolated, highly processed fiber into what are essentially junk foods,” says Bonnie Liebman of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

A bunch of packaged foods contain added fiber. Some examples include Fiber One bar products, some cereal and instant oatmeal products, as well as some pastas and English muffins.

Liebman says most people know that an apple is a healthier choice than a high-fiber brownie, but when they see high fiber counts on the label, “it may just be enough to convince them to go with the brownie.”

Liebman argues a much better way to get the recommended 25 to 38 grams of daily fiber is to eat more foods that are naturally rich in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

High-fiber diets may help protect against a range of diseases, from Type 2 diabetes and heart disease to certain types of cancer.

The FDA lists a range of health benefits linked to dietary fiber. For instance, fiber can help lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, as well as blood pressure. Fiber can also aid laxation and bowel function, and it can promote a feeling of fullness, which may lead people to eat less.

The FDA is in the process of determining whether isolated and synthetic fibers provide a beneficial physiological effect to human health. The agency says that going forward, there must be at least one demonstrated benefit. “Only fibers that meet the definition can be declared as a dietary fiber on the Nutrition Facts label,” according to this Q&A about the review process. The agency is reviewing the science.

The food industry has weighed in, pointing to the demonstrated benefits of some of these added fibers. “I think the main benefit is that they contribute to regularity and laxation,” says Robert Burns, vice president of health and nutrition policy at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Burns says most people don’t consume enough fiber, so “if you can supplement [with] snack bars that people are eating, it [can] go a long way to meeting dietary recommendations.”

Critics say an optimal diet is one that includes lots of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. These foods are not only naturally rich in fiber, they also contain other beneficial compounds such as vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory compounds.

“Highly processed snack bars typically contain combinations of processed starch and added sugar. They’re low in vitamins and minerals,” says Dr. David Ludwig of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Just adding isolated fiber back in [to these processed foods] does not cover up for those nutritional deficiencies.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Turns out there are some workouts that can improve your memory. NPR’s Jon Hamilton reports on two approaches to brain training.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Brain training programs often target something called working memory.

KARA BLACKER: Working memory is our mental workspace.

HAMILTON: Kara Blacker is a scientist at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation. She says you need working memory to get through the day.

BLACKER: So if somebody gives you directions, you have to keep that information in mind long enough to actually execute going to that location. If somebody tells you a phone number, you have to be able to remember it.

HAMILTON: Scientists have tried two methods to improve working memory. And Blacker wanted to know whether one of them was more effective. So she and a team at Johns Hopkins University had more than 130 people spend a month training their brains. One group trained with something called the dual n-back test. Blacker says it involves monitoring two streams of information and trying to recall what you saw or heard in each stream.

BLACKER: It sounds very difficult, but people get surprisingly good at it.

HAMILTON: Another group trained with something called a complex span test. They tried to remember the order and location of squares on a grid. And there was a clear winner. The team reports in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement that people who used the dual n-back test improved their working memory by about 30 percent. Blacker says that was nearly twice as much as people who used the complex span test.

BLACKER: And then the really exciting part was that we found that the dual n-back group showed significant changes in their brain activity.

HAMILTON: Especially in an area associated with higher-level thinking. So did training make these people smarter?

BLACKER: No, that is not what we found.

HAMILTON: Their IQ didn’t change. And Bradley Voytek of the University of California, San Diego says that’s been the case with most brain training studies.

BRADLEY VOYTEK: We want to just be able to, like, pull up our iPhone while we’re sitting on the train or at a bus stop or something, play a game for a couple of minutes and get smarter.

HAMILTON: But we can’t. Voytek says brain training programs seem to improve only a very narrow set of skills, not overall intelligence. And that’s not surprising. After all, Voytek says, you wouldn’t expect people who train their bodies for cycling to also be great swimmers or runners.

VOYTEK: They’re not going to be able to compete against Usain Bolt. Just like if you put Usain Bolt on a bike, they’re not going to be able to compete with a world-class cyclist.

HAMILTON: The skills just don’t transfer. Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEM IVERSOM’S “BLUE”)

INSKEEP: If you want to see what a brain workout looks like, get it on your brain. It’s on our health blog Shots at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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