Fiber, Why Do We Need it Again?

March 04, 2011

There are so many things to think about in terms of choosing the right foods. Don't miss out on this essential “non-nutrient”

There are so many things to think about on a daily basis, in terms of staying healthy and choosing foods that are good for us and the whole family. One of those things is making sure we eat enough foods with fiber. Dietary fiber is even the focus of two FDA-approved health claims appearing on foods labels - for the prevention of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Fiber is packed with a variety of health benefits; yet most Americans only consume about 10-15 grams per day, half of what experts recommend. A diet rich in fiber helps keep you regular, may lower your risk of colon and rectal cancer, and if you are watching your weight, can make you feel full longer, so you eat less. In addition, certain types of fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels and can even help to control the rise of blood sugar levels after a meal.

A study from the National Cancer Institute and the AARP recently concluded that a higher intake of dietary fiber from grains was significantly related to a lower mortality rate in both men and women. The researchers also found an inverse association between dietary fiber intake and cancer death in men. Fiber intake was associated with a significantly lowered risk of total death in both men and women.

Fiber is found in plants and although often a component of healthy foods, fiber is not actually considered a nutrient; because it alone does not contribute any calories, since it can’t be digested. There are two forms of fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and comes mostly from oats, legumes and some fruits (berries have the most) and vegetables. These fibers are frequently used in low fat and nonfat foods to add texture. To lower your cholesterol you need to eat a good amount of soluble fiber, such as 3 (1/2 cup) servings of oatmeal per day. Each serving contains 2 grams of total fiber and 0.9 gram of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation.

It’s recommended to consume between 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily, but in order to avoid uneasiness in the digestive tract, be sure to increase fiber intake gradually, and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes are great sources of fiber as well as whole grains. The Nutrition Facts panel on food labels can help you determine the fiber content in packaged foods. A product that is marked as being high in fiber has 5 grams or more per serving, and one that notes it is a good source of fiber has 2.5- 4.9 grams per serving. Look for ingredients such as bran, whole ground cornmeal, cracked wheat and oatmeal as well.

Shopping smart for fiber rich foods: avocado, nuts, oranges, coconut, apples, blackberries, raspberries, pear, sweet potato, squash, broccoli, beets, greens, beans (red beans, adzuki beans, lentils, mung, split peas, etc.), amaranth, barley, oats, wheat bran, quinoa and flax seeds.