The Unsung Hero – Fiber

Submitted at a public courtesy by Glacial Ridge Health System

You've heard it's a good idea to include fiber in your diet, but how much fiber do you need?

A high-fiber diet can benefit your health in several ways; especially digestive health. You know how it feels when it's not healthy; you experience either constipation or diarrhea. They're on the opposite ends of the bowel movement spectrum, so how does fiber help?

Two Types of Fiber – Soluble and Insoluble

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps slow down the speed at which food moves from your stomach to your intestines. It can also prevent diarrhea. A benefit of soluble fiber is it enables you to stay fuller longer, making it easier to manage your hunger between meals. It also lowers your LDL (or "bad") cholesterol by binding to the bile in your liver and taking it out of your body. Additionally, soluble fiber reduces and improves blood sugar by slowing down how fast your body absorbs sugar. Stable blood sugar levels can decrease the risk of diabetes or help prevent complications if you have diabetes. Soluble fiber also feeds the "good" bacteria in your gut, essential to immune function. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, beans and lentils, apples, citrus fruit, blueberries, and chia seeds.

Insoluble fiber absorbs water and remains mostly unchanged as it moves through the digestive tract, which makes your stool soft and bulky. Therefore, it helps you have regular bowel movements and prevents constipation. Insoluble fiber is good for colon health. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, the skins of produce, and some vegetables such as peas, turnips, spinach, and okra are full of fiber.

Most whole plant foods contain a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber rather than one or the other, and both fibers are critical for optimum health. When your diet consists of various foods from plants, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, you will likely get the different types of fiber your body needs. Foods with almost equal amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber include sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, and carrots.

Fiber Recommendations:

• For men age 50 and younger – 38 grams per day

• For men age 51 and older – 30 grams per day

• For women age 50 and younger – 25 grams per day

• For women 51 and older – 21 grams per day

Tips to Help You Get More Fiber

Unfortunately, most people don't meet their recommended fiber intake. When you know you need to get more fiber into your diet, here are some strategies to make it happen:

• Incorporate fiber into every meal to get a steady flow of fiber throughout the day. Don't forget snacks.

• Choose whole-wheat varieties of bread, pasta, tortillas, rice, and flour instead of white.

• Eat fruit at every meal.

• Eat high-fiber snacks like raw vegetables, nuts, or popcorn.

• Choose high-fiber oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, and top it with fruit.

• Cook with oat bran. Add it to meatloaf, burgers, casseroles, and baked goods.

• Add beans or lentils to salads, soups, and stews.

• If you don't get enough fiber from food, ask your doctor about taking a fiber supplement. Your doctor can recommend the type of supplement that is best for you.

Two Important Tips When Adding Fiber to Your Diet:

• Start slowly. Do not try adding a lot at once, as this can worsen digestive systems in the form of gas and bloating.

• Drink plenty of water to help the fiber move through your digestive system.

What About Processed Foods?

Experts believe that the rise in refined sugars in convenience foods and the decline in plant fibers is responsible for many of the chronic diseases people experience, such as Type 2 diabetes. Try swapping a few of your pre-packaged convenience snacks for healthier options. When starting to do this, it helps to check nutrition labels. Choose products that have 3 grams of fiber per serving for a 150-200 calorie snack. And look for "whole grain" or "whole wheat" at the beginning of the ingredients list. A few pre-packaged snack examples include roasted edamame beans, roasted chickpeas, hummus, and air-popped popcorn.

Eating a wide variety of plant foods gives you a good chance of eating enough fiber.


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