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Ask The Macro Manager

"Does Fiber Count In Calories?"

Ask The Macro Manager: Does Fiber Count In Calories?

Fiber does plenty of good things in your body, but its place in caloric calculations has yet to be nailed down. Get some soluble knowledge about this important dietary component!
Q

I have a question concerning dietary fiber. Some people recommend counting it as calories, while others recommend ignoring it and recalculating calories accordingly. What should I do?

Fiber can be a little confusing. For a while, nutritional labels split this category into "soluble" and "insoluble" fiber, but those definitions didn't capture the function the fiber served. So the USDA's newer fiber definitions got rid of those classifications, opting instead for "dietary fiber" and "functional fiber." These two are defined by the USDA's Dietary Reference Intakes as:

Dietary Fiber: non-digestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants

Functional Fiber: isolated, non-digestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans

Unfortunately, food labels don't distinguish these subtypes and neither classification gives you any idea of the calorie content of the fiber. So aside from the sentiment that we should be eating more of both, the categories are of little use to most people.

Fiber Has Calories?

Some people consider fiber calorie-free, assuming that it just provides bulk to the diet, but what many people don't realize is that bacteria in your gut feed on some types of fiber. They chow down on your dietary bulk and it results in the production of short-chain fatty acids, which your body can use. So from that point of view, fiber would count as calories.

However, not all the fiber that you eat meets this fate, and there's no clear consensus on fiber's caloric contribution. On one hand, the FDA estimates the amount of caloric contribution due to bacterial degradation at about 1.5 calories per gram of fiber. However, different countries and institutions have divergent ideas of what fiber is, let alone how to calculate it in any given meal. The FDA's estimate is just that, an estimate.

The Trap of the Numbers Game

Counting just some of the fiber in your diet is looking tricky. You have two other options: Count all if it, or none of it. Which should you choose?

With any sort of change to your diet and supplement regimen, it is important to weigh the pros and cons. One con that many people forget is time and mental effort. We often think about the financial cost of a supplement or potential negative physiological side effects, but rarely do we think of the time and mental effort that comes with tinkering or (I use this term with suspicion) upgrading a program.

Fiber Content in Food

Food Group Serving Fiber (g/serving)
Fruit 0.5 cup 1.1g
Dark-green Veggies 0.5 cup 6.4g
Cooked Dry Beans 0.5 cup 8.0g
Starchy Veggies 0.5 cup 1.7g
Whole Grains 28g (1oz) 2.4g
Meat 28g (1oz) 0.1g

To be honest, there is little upside in taking the time to subtract the fiber content from all of your foods and then recalculate the caloric content. Remember: These are not perfect processes, and most people dramatically overestimate on one end or the other. We often obsess over the "calories in" portion of the equation, but rarely are we able to accurately measure the "calories out" portion of the equation. I was once taught in high school physics that you are only as accurate as your least accurate measure.

My advice would be: Don't worry about improving the accuracy of your calorie-counting by being technically correct about the contribution of fiber. It is wasted effort. If there is a caloric difference due to fiber, it's small enough that it's probably easily obliterated if you walk to work or take your dog for a stroll after dinner.

Count your fats, proteins, and total carbs. Monitor the percent contribution to total calories of each of those in addition to your total caloric intake. These are the most impactful macronutrient numbers, and they're ones you can manage.


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About The Author

Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD is known for transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical habits...

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claing

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claing

Great article, I've had this question for a long time and this definitely helps clear it up.

Jan 23, 2013 7:10pm | report
gorana

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gorana

I agree - I have had this question too - and I like the article but it has not provided the answer to the question...especially when counting carbs -do we subtract fiber from the total amount of carbohydrates?

Jan 24, 2013 11:18am | report
mroussell

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mroussell

@gorana - no I don't recommend subtracting fiber from the total amount of calories.

Jan 24, 2013 12:26pm | report
robwein83

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robwein83

As quoted in the article, "Don't worry about improving the accuracy of your calorie-counting by being technically correct about the contribution of fiber. It is wasted effort. If there is a caloric difference due to fiber, it's small enough that it's probably easily obliterated if you walk to work or take your dog for a stroll after dinner.

Count your fats, proteins, and total carbs"

Jan 24, 2013 5:31pm | report
gorana

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gorana

Ok - thank you! But in my case the difference in daily carb intake would not be that small...I m not that concerned about the calories but more about the carb intake since I am trying to keep it as low as possible...

Jan 24, 2013 10:20pm | report
shanlu97

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shanlu97

Good read

Jan 24, 2013 3:53pm | report
Rineb

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Rineb

Good article

Jan 24, 2013 5:11pm | report
ExPwner

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ExPwner

The advice I've heard is to subtract insoluble fiber but leave in soluble fiber.

Jan 24, 2013 5:22pm | report
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Ty77

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Ty77

Great article

Jan 25, 2013 6:26am | report
cldillmann1

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cldillmann1

just count it all, if your body doesnt digest it then you come out ahead if not atleast youve taken accountg for it.

just dont go off packages calories go off the macronutrient as the calorie count on the packages subtracts fiber most of the time to provide for a lesser caloire number

Mar 6, 2013 2:24pm | report
Kash2014

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Kash2014

How can a person get in recommended daily fiber (38g/Men, 25g/Women) and still keep your macros in check?
I haven't been able to - guess I'm full of sh!

Aug 18, 2013 4:23am | report
dymaz

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dymaz

Obviously, it is easier to sell more fiber saying it has 0 cal. That is why "it is not clear yet", and "different countries and institutions have divergent ideas of what fiber is" :)

However, it is easier than to send people to space to define which substances constitute "the fiber", and then to describe the whole process of fiber digestion (or explaining that there are no mechanism to break down such and such substances in the human body).

If it is a complex carb, then it definitely must count.

Nov 20, 2013 7:14am | report
JakeSim

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JakeSim

This article seems kind of contradictory on what to do, no?

"Count your fats, proteins, and total carbs. Monitor the percent contribution to total calories of each of those in addition to your total caloric intake. These are the most impactful macronutrient numbers, and they're ones you can manage."

Total carbs include the fiber, right?

Jan 20, 2014 2:40pm | report
0174patty

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0174patty

Thanks for the article Mike, good stuff!

Feb 5, 2014 7:20am | report
Showing 1 - 12 of 12 Comments

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