Fiber--It’s the musical ingredient of beans, the cholesterol-lowing component of oatmeal and Cheerios, and what is lacking in many people’s diets. Dietary fiber comes from plants and is found in vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. It tends to be found in greater quantity in the skins, peels, membranes, bran, and germ, so eating whole foods is preferred over more refined or processed versions. Juicing, for example, is a method of “processing” fruits and vegetables to extract their fiber and therefore drinking solely the juice will not provide the following health benefits associated with fiber.
There are several different types of fiber, but the two main categories are soluble and insoluble. Both types are important to consume daily and are praised for their remarkable and diverse effects on the body. Soluble fiber is soluble in water, meaning that it will dissolve and turn into a type of gel that slows digestion, promotes feelings of fullness, and can also decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels. By slowing digestion, blood sugar levels may be more stable, which is helpful especially for people with diabetes. Soluble fiber is found in large amounts in oats, beans/legumes, flaxseed, chia seed, and psyllium husk, but is also found in some fruits (i.e. apples, oranges, bananas, berries) and some vegetables (i.e. celery, carrots).
Insoluble fiber is also beneficial to the body but acts in the opposite way of soluble fiber. This type of fiber promotes gastrointestinal health by bulking up the stool speeding up the transit time in the intestines. Through these actions, insoluble fiber can prevent constipation, decrease the risk of diverticular disease, and possibly prevent colon cancer (research results are mixed). Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole grains, most vegetables, nuts, and the skins of fruit and root vegetables
Fiber can also can promote a healthy body weight by increasing the bulk or volume of meals while decreasing the calorie-density. By replacing high-calorie fats or sugars (i.e. muffin, soda) with lower-calorie, high-fiber foods (i.e. steamed vegetables, fresh fruit), you can reduce your calorie intake and lose weight without feeling hungry. The fiber promotes satiation and satiety which means that you will feel full sooner during your meal and you will stay full longer in between your meals. This can really facilitate both weight loss and weight maintenance.
The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily fiber intake of 38 grams for men up to age 50 and 30 grams for men ages 51 and older. For women up to age 50, 25 grams is suggested, with 21 grams being sufficient for those 51 and older.
To increase your daily fiber intake:
- Aim for 2-3 whole pieces of fruit per day (how about one with each meal?)
- Fill half your plate with raw or cooked vegetables at lunch and dinner. If you’re still hungry after a full plate of food, go back for more veggies!
- Choose more whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, bulgur, barley, rye, quinoa, oats, and millet. Find a way to replace refined grains with whole grains and include a variety throughout the day. Have oatmeal with breakfast, make your sandwich on whole rye bread for lunch, make your own popcorn for a snack, and try wild rice with dinner.
- Include more legumes in your diet. Go meatless with a vegetarian bean chili or serve lentil soup as your first course. Make hummus out of garbanzo beans or add kidney beans to your salad.
Note: As much as possible, get fiber from whole foods rather than supplements to reap the synergistic benefits of the complete and natural nutrition package. If you are increasing the fiber in your diet, you may need to drink more water.
Michaela Ballmann, MS, RD is enthusiastic about guilt-free eating, whole person care, and nourishing food. Her main interest is in getting people to love food, their bodies, and themselves. Michaela seeks to share the truth about nutrition and help restore you to what you once were–a healthy, whole human being. Connect with her through her podcast, blog, and nutrition counseling at Wholify.