On the road to good nutrition I’m sure you’ve been told “Eat more fiber.” But do you know why fiber is so good for your health and which foods are high in fiber? Dietary fiber — found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — is probably best known for its ability to move things along in your digestive tract. But fiber can provide other health and nutrition benefits as well, such as lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease. According to a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it also appears to reduce your risk of dying. Yes, you heard that correctly. The good news is that selecting tasty foods that provide fiber isn’t difficult. Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it and how to add them to meals and snacks.
The Facts on Fiber:
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fiber isn’t digested by your body. Therefore, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon, and out of your body. It might seem like fiber doesn’t do much, but it has several important roles in maintaining good health and nutrition.
It is critical to the diet because it:
- Attracts water to the digestive tract.
- Exercises the muscle of the digestive tract.
- Speeds up food passage, which helps prevent exposure of the digestive tract tissue to cancer causing agents in foods.
- Binds with cholesterol and carries it out of the body, reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Slows sugar absorption after a meal and may reduce the amount of insulin needed.
- Aids in weight loss. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat and will stay full for a longer time.
Are you Eating Enough Foods with Fiber?
Although fiber is not considered an essential nutrient, the U.S. Surgeon General and many professional health organizations recommend a diet containing 20-35 grams of fiber a day. It’s the foods that contain the fiber that make it a part of a nutritionally sound diet. Americans don’t get nearly enough fiber in their diets, with most only getting 10-15 grams.
What Foods are Sources of Fiber?
Fruits, vegetables (skin and membranes of cleaned fruits and vegetables are excellent), dried beans, wheat bran, seeds, popcorn, brown rice and whole grain products such as breads, cereals and pasta. Choose fresh fruit or vegetables rather than juice.
Refined or processed foods – such as canned fruits and vegetables and pulp-free juice, white bread and pasta, and non-whole-grain cereals are lower in fiber content. The refining process removes the outer coat from the grain, which lowers its fiber content.
Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally better. Fiber supplements — such as Metamucil, Citrucel and FiberCon — don’t provide the vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits that high-fiber foods do but are suggested for some health conditions. Alway check with your physician.
Need more tips for high-fiber meals? Try these suggestions:
- Add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal, and always choose a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber. Top it with berries.
- Add pre-cut fresh or frozen veggies to soups and sauces. TIP: Add a can of kidney beans to soup, or some frozen broccoli to spaghetti sauce.
- Eat fruit at every meal. It not only ups your fiber intake but scores high on nutrition.
- Substitute whole grain flour for half of the white flour when baking. It’s heavier, so when using baking powder increase by 1 tsp. for every 3 cups of whole grain flour. Add a few tablespoons of bran to muffins.
To avoid abdominal discomfort it is important to add fiber gradually over a period of a few weeks. An increase in fiber should be accompanied by an increase in water.
As always include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains in your diet.