The Dish on Dietary Fiber

There’s no getting around it- fiber is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.  Fiber has been proven to be beneficial to maintain health and in reducing risk for many diseases from heart disease to diabetes.  Fiber has a gentle “sweeping” effect on the inner walls of your intestines, what might be called your “daily house cleaning”.  It’s a rapid transit system keeping your body tuned up and free of toxins.  Most people in the United States average only 10-15 grams of fiber per day while it is actually recommended that we should be eating at least 25 – 30 grams.

What is dietary fiber?

Dietary fiber is the part of the plant that cannot be digested by the body.  Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Just as there are many types of plants, there are also many types of dietary fiber. Some fibers can be dissolved in water (soluble) and once inside the small intestine form a jelly-like bulk that can lower cholesterol and blood sugars.  A diet high in soluble fiber can actually reduce total cholesterol and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) by as much as 15%.  Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as oat bran, apples, citrus, pears, peas, beans, and psyllium.   Soluble fibers act mainly in the small intestine, since they are destroyed by bacteria in the large intestine. 

Insoluble fibers cannot be dissolved in water and are not destroyed by bacteria in the colon.  Insoluble fibers are found in wheat, oat, and corn bran, cabbage, celery, root vegetable skins, legumes, onions, nuts, and seeds and work mainly in the colon where they add bulk and help retain water, resulting in softer stools. So, a diet high in insoluble fiber is often used in treating constipation resulting from poor dietary habits.

 HIGH FIBER FOODS                                          

Foods high in fiber can also be delicious! It is just a matter of making the right choices.  Here are 6 basic types of food that contain high amounts of dietary fiber:

Beans: Including pinto, navy, split peas, lentils, kidney, and black beans.  Beans are loaded with soluble fiber- the cholesterol lowering type and are one of the best, most nutrient packed sources

Whole grains: Wheat and oat bran can be found in a variety of cereals and breads. Check the label, it must say whole wheat or whole grain. Don’t forget about quinoa, barley, brown rice, and couscous too!

Whole fresh fruits: These contain pectin, another soluble fiber. Especially apples, pears, figs, prunes, and raspberries. Remember, you need to eat the skins in order to get the fiber!

Dried or stewed fruits: Prunes, raisins, and apricots are good choices.  Applesauce can have fiber too if made with the skins but be careful with dried fruits as they are higher in calories and sugar than fresh fruit.

 Green leafy vegetables– The darker the better!  Typical lettuce salad actually has little fiber and contains mostly water.  Spinach, kale, collards, bok choy, and broccoli are best.

 Root vegetables- Potatoes, turnips, and carrots are great sources. Get those skins in too, they are a good source of insoluble fiber

 Don’t be too enthusiastic

If you are not used to much fiber in your diet, don’t load up on high fiber foods right away.  Most people cannot handle a sudden increase in fiber very well as it takes your body time to adjust.  Too much too soon can cause bloating and gas.  The golden rule regarding fiber is to take in fiber in gradually increasing amounts and make sure you are drinking at least 32oz of water everyday.  Take it slow so your body can adjust to a new, healthy diet.

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