Fiber is in Fashion
By: Tara DelloIacono
Filling up on fiber might sound like something your grandma used to do, but no matter how old you are, fiber provides many advantages, from your waistline to your heart.
Found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, fiber is an important part of your daily diet. It helps to satisfy hunger and to keep your digestive system in top shape, and it also has been linked to lower cholesterol.
The problem is, most of us simply don’t get enough. The recommendation for older kids, teens, and adults is 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, while the average American consumes only about one third to one half that amount. Perhaps we simply don’t know where to find fiber or know how much is in the foods we eat. The first step toward getting enough is to become familiar with what 25 grams of fiber might look like in your diet. Here’s an example:
- ½ cup beans (8 grams of fiber)
- 1 whole wheat English muffin (4 grams of fiber)
- ½ cup cooked vegetables (4 grams of fiber)
- 1 small apple (2 grams of fiber)
- 1 ounce almonds (3 grams of fiber)
Animal and dairy products typically do not contain fiber. Think about little changes to bump up your intake, such as complementing your chicken with some lentils or your yogurt with some crunchy bran cereal.
People are often puzzled by the two types of fiber they read about on food labels: soluble and insoluble. Don’t let this stump you. Both types are important, which is why the total dietary fiber (the two types added together) is the value to watch. For your nutrition information, here is what each is providing you:
Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water, forming a jellylike bulk in the stomach and small intestine that gives a feeling of fullness. It’s also the one associated with lower cholesterol in the blood, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Oatmeal, oat bran, apples, citrus fruits, legumes, and psyllium (a plant product used in common over-the-counter fiber supplements) are especially rich in soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, so it’s able to bulk up stools and help move things along your digestive tract. Whole grains, bran, nuts, and vegetables are especially good sources of insoluble fiber.
If you are reading a food label for fiber info, don’t sweat the difference between the two types. Look for foods to contain at least 2 grams of total dietary fiber (about as much as in a small piece of fruit).
Who Says Fiber Isn’t Fun?
While a big bowl of bran is probably an excellent way to fill up on your fiber, there are plenty of other nutritious (and delicious!) options to choose from that will help you bump up your intake:
- Why not try some fruit? Note that whole fruits are a better source of fiber than fruit juices.
- Craving some spaghetti or a yummy stir-fry? Just replace white rice with brown and regular pasta with whole-grain varieties and voila! you’ve added fiber. The same principle works with bread.
- The variety of whole-grain cereals now available for breakfast goes way beyond bran flakes. Try a few and mix them with yogurt and fruit.
- Snack on raw vegetables with a healthy dip like hummus, which also has fiber. Double bonus!
- Let your inner chef loose and experiment with soups, salads, and entrées that use whole grains and legumes as the main ingredient.
A few parting words of wisdom for fashioning more fiber into your diet: GRADUALLY increase the amount of fiber eat. Too much too soon will leave you feeling uncomfortable. Also, stay well hydrated. The body needs water to work with fiber. Find your new favorite fiber treat and enjoy!
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