Fiber is a word you have heard many times, but you may not know the ‘ins and outs’ of fiber. Fiber is something we need in our daily diets, but most of us don’t even come close to consuming the recommended amount of fiber per day. The American Dietetic Association recommends that we consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but the average American only averages about 13-15 grams per day. “So what?” you say, well, read on!
Dietary fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation, but it has several more important roles in maintaining good health including lowering your risk of diabetes and certain diseases.
What is fiber?
There are two main classes of carbohydrates: starch, which our bodies can digest, and fiber, which our bodies do not digest. Fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (peas, beans and lentils) as well nuts and seeds. Fiber is never found in animal products anf the fiber in plants is the one part our body cannot use for energy.
There are two major types of dietary fiber:
1. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
2. Insoluble fiber, which passes though our digestive system almost intact because our bodies are not able to break it down. It promotes movement of the stools and can benefit those with any irregularity or constipation. Whole grains, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.
What does fiber do?
Fiber does more than normalize bowel movements. In the small intestine, fiber traps cholesterol and fats which help lower cholesterol levels. It also slows the absorption of sugar, thus improving blood glucose levels. In the large intestine, or colon, fiber causes fermentation and promotes healthy bacteria. This helps enhances the immune system to fight off infection and disease.
Numerous studies have shown that fiber can be extremely helpful in lowering the risks of developing a broad spectrum of diseases. Fiber plays a vital role in:
- Lowering blood cholesterol levels
- Controlling blood sugar levels
- Lowering risk of coronary heart disease
- Reduces risk of colon cancer
- Prevents Cardiovascular Disease
The Institutes of Medicine recommends that we consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food we eat each day. Meaning a person who consumes around 1,500 calories should be taking in about 21 grams of fiber. However, most in the medical profession still suggest a minimum of 25 grams per day.
Can we have too much of a good thing?
Yes. It’s important when increasing your fiber consumption that you do so carefully, especially if you are low in your fiber intake. Fiber carries water out of the body so consuming too much could lead to dehydration. So make sure you drink a lot of water every day and increase your water intake when you increase your fiber intake. Fiber also speeds the movement of food through our digestive track and if you do too much too fast, it reduces the amount of time the body has to absorb important vitamins and minerals which can negatively impact your health. It is best to increase your fiber intake by a few grams a day over the course of a week or two.
Will it help with weight loss?
Absolutely! Fiber is a key component to your daily diet if you are looking to be more healthy or even if you are trying to drop a few pounds. Fiber works in the stomach and small intestine giving you a sense of fullness and keeping you full for longer periods of time. When you feel full your are more satisfied and are less tempted to overeat. Insoluble fiber has few, if any calories, so it makes a good addition to most weight loss plans. Fiberous foods provide bulk and stimulate the release of appetite-suppressing hormones. Some researchers have calculated that if Americans doubled their intake of fiber, they could cut about 100 calories from their daily diet – which could shave off 10 pounds of yearly weight gain. (WebMD.com) Try and load up with fiber in the morning as it helps you stay full throughout the day.
I’m ready! How do I get more fiber into my daily diet?
It’s easy to add a little extra fiber to your diet. Here are some simple ways to incorporate more fiber into your diet. Making these little choices will surely transform your body to better health.
- Add raspberries and flaxseeds to your oats, shakes, smoothies, yogurt, etc.
- Replace refined grain products such as bread or cereals with whole grain.
- Snack on apples or vegetables, even dip them in peanut butter.
- Spread avocado on your sandwich or slice it and add to your salad.
- Toss some almonds and seeds onto your salad.
- Add legumes (beans, peas, lentils) to your soup
- Instead of white rice, try brown rice, barley, and quinoa.
- Add chopped spinach or broccoli to your favorite soups or casserole recipes.
- Juice – with a good juice machine you can juice many fruits and vegetables including the outer layers to add more fiber.
It’s not always easy to tell exactly how much fiber is contained in the food we eat. If you use online calorie counters such as sparkspeople.com then you can add fiber to your nutritional charts. Also, see the chart below to give you just a few items and their fiber counts.
Can I take supplements to increase my fiber intake?
Obviously the best way to get the recommended daily amount of fiber is through unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. However, some will turn to supplements such as Metamucil, Benefiber, etc., to increase their daily fiber. Before you go down this road or buy “fiber added” processed foods, try some of the naturally fiber-filled foods first. Supplements can work if absolutely necessary but they don’t provide the vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that high-fiber foods have. Psyllium is a good choice and comes in capsules or powder which can be added to your shakes, smoothies, etc.
|Food||Serving Size||Dietary Fiber|
|Apple, with peel||1 medium||3 grams|
|Banana||1 medium||3 grams|
|Blueberries||1 cup||4 grams|
|Cantaloupe||1 cup||1 grams|
|Grapefruit||1 medium||3 grams|
|Orange||1 medium||3 grams|
|Pear, with peel||1 medium||4 grams|
|Prunes, dried||½ cup||6 grams|
|Raspberries||1 cup||8 grams|
|Asparagus, 5 medium, cooked||½ cup||2 grams|
|Black, Kidney, Pinto beans, cooked||½ cup||8 grams|
|Broccoli, cooked||½ cup||2 grams|
|Carrots||½ cup||2 grams|
|Cauliflower, cooked||½ cup||2 grams|
|Sweet potato, with skin, baked||1 medium||3 grams|
|Spinach, cooked||½ cup||3 grams|
|Tomato||1 medium||1 grams|
|Whole-grain bread||1 slice||3 grams|
|Steel Cut Oats||1/2 cup, dry||4 grams|
|Flaxseed||2 tablespoons||3 grams|
|Brown rice, cooked||½ cup||2 grams|
|Peanuts, dry-roasted||½ cup||6 grams|