By Robin Quay, MS, RD, Sodexo Dietitian
Fiber. We’ve all heard the word, but what is it, and why do nutrition and health experts keep telling us we need it?
Fiber is found in the cell walls of plants. It’s a complex carbohydrate, but humans are unable to digest it. Therefore, it has no calories or nutrients, yet consuming fiber is important for good health.
There are two types of fiber-soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oat bran, barley, and legumes including kidney beans, pinto beans and black-eyed peas. Wheat bran, brown rice, nuts and vegetables contain higher levels of insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol which decreases the risk of heart disease. It also helps control blood sugar by slowing down carbohydrate absorption.
Insoluble fiber helps keep the GI tract healthy. It helps move things along. Yes, it helps you poop. But also, it helps prevent diverticulitis and colon cancer.
High fiber foods can help with weight management, because they help provide a feeling of fullness, and are usually low in calories.
High fiber foods, which include whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables, are also packed with vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients-which is why it’s better to get fiber from foods and not supplements.
We need at least 25 grams of fiber each day, but most Americans eat only about 13 or 14 grams of fiber each day. Here are some tips to help you get the benefits of fiber:
Eat whole grains like whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta. Try to choose whole grains for at least half of the grain foods you eat each day.
Eat beans (legumes) a few times each week.
Eat fruit- the recommendation is 2 cups per day.
Eat vegetables-the recommendation is 2.5 cups per day.
You might notice that, for the most part, none of these foods are in the average fast food meal. It takes a little thought and planning to choose foods with fiber, but with just a few changes, you’ll be well on your way to getting enough.
Have whole wheat toast or a whole grain cereal with breakfast. Have a piece of fruit, too. Have your sandwich at lunch on 100% wheat bread. Have a vegetable and a fruit with lunch. Or have a whole wheat tortilla with beans, or bean soup. Have a vegetable or a salad with dinner. Have whole wheat pasta or brown rice instead of their refined counterparts. Snack on fruit.
As you add fiber to your diet, do so gradually to give your body time to adjust to the increased fiber and minimize the side effects, such as intestinal gas. Increasing fluid intake, especially by drinking more water, can help alleviate the side effects as well. These usually disappear after a few days as your body gets used to more fiber.
Most foods that are considered high in fiber have just 3-5 grams of fiber per serving, so you can see you need to eat several high fiber foods each day to get enough! There are many delicious choices though, and the health benefits are worth it!