Forgetting Fiber?

March 06, 2013

Fiber is one of the most important food components we can consume - and getting enough means fruits, vegetables and whole grains at every meal

Fiber is one of the most important food components we can consume - and getting enough means fruits, vegetables and whole grains at every meal. Fiber is such an important factor in health that it's 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 help lower blood cholesterol levels, and can even help to control the rise of blood sugar levels after a meal.

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 cannot be digested.

There are two forms of fiber, soluble and insoluble. 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 - soluble fiber interferes with how the body absorbs cholesterol from foods. 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, adding bulk – and acts as a broom through your intestines.

Shooting for at least 25 grams of fiber per day is recommended - 35 is idea! 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, and nuts and seeds (think almonds and flax seeds). 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.

Shop smart for fiber rich foods! Choose avocados, nuts, oranges, coconut, apples, blackberries, raspberries, pear, sweet potato, squash, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, beets, greens, beans (all beans are high fiber including - red beans, adzuki beans, lentils, mung, split peas, etc.), amaranth, barley, oats, wheat bran, quinoa, chia and flax seeds for fiber and variety!