So.. What is Fiber?
Plants contain materials that our bodies are unable to digest and that material is what we call FIBER! Fiber is in all plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Best known for its ability to relieve and prevent constipation, fiber also contains many beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals that have many health benefits such as lowering your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
There are two types of dietary fiber, both offering great health benefits:
Soluble fibers form sticky substances such as gums and gels. These fibers slow the movement of food through the digestive tract often helping to control blood sugar levels after meals. They have also been shown to be beneficial in lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol in our body. This can help lower your risk for heart disease. Some examples include:
- Oat bran
- Nuts and Seeds
- Legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils)
Insoluble fibers are course, chewy materials that adds bulk to our diet, leaving us more satisfied after a meal. They are often referred to as roughage. These fibers help improve motility by swelling and softening the stool to stimulate movement in your colon. Insoluble fiber has been shown to help decrease you risk for intestinal cancer by increasing the movement of foods and toxins through your digestive tract, leaving less time for harmful substances to build. Some examples include:
- Whole grains (whole wheat breads, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur)
- Wheat bran
So How much do I need?
The American Dietetic Association recommends Americans eat at least 22-38 grams of fiber a day. The average American is eating a lot less, around 10-15 grams of dietary fiber a day!
How can I increase my fiber intake?
Increasing your fiber intake may be easier than you think! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking of ways to incorporate fiber in your diet:
- Instead of white rice, mix brown and long grain rice for a new flavor that’s loaded with nutrients!
- Don’t peel your fruits and vegetables. The skin contains fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
- Switch to 100% whole wheat bread, bagels, crackers, etc.
- Add on a “fist-full” or more of vegetables to your evening meal.
- Try rolled oats or crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal, or eggplant Parmesan.
- Try to include three fruit servings as dessert, snacks, or with breakfast. (ex. Apple w/ peanut butter, yogurt w/ berries, dried fruit in salads, cereal with milk and bananas.)
- Switching to a whole grain or whole wheat pasta/tortilla.
- Look for stone ground whole wheat, whole wheat flour, whole oat flour, or whole grain wheat as the first ingredient in your bread.
- Experiment by substituting whole wheat flour or oat flour for up to half the flour in a waffle, pancake, muffin, or flour based recipes. You may need a bit more leavening.
- Try unsweetened, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons on salads or in place of crackers in soups.
Water and Fiber
As you begin to increase fiber in your diet, the rule of thumb is to increase your water intake as well. Fiber has the ability to absorb water, therefore as you increase the fiber in your diet, be sure to increase the amount of fluids you consume.