Fiber’s an important part of your diet. Fiber is basically the parts of plants that your body cannot digest. There are two categories of dietary fiber: soluble (fiber that can be absorbed in water) and insoluble (fiber that can’t be absorbed in water). Insoluble fiber is what bulks up your stool and increases the ease and speed of digestive material traveling through your colon. Everyone needs insoluble fiber in their diet, but it is especially helpful for those with constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and irregular stools. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gelatinous substance that can lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
Getting enough fiber in the diet can help to lower the risk of developing certain health conditions. Evidence is now growing to support the notion that foods containing soluble fiber such as oats, rye, barley and beans can have a positive influence on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other particles in the blood that affect the development of heart disease. Some people believe that fiber can help protect against colon cancer because it speeds up the passage of food through the body, thus preventing harmful substances from being absorbed. Others believe that cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer that are linked with over-nutrition can also be prevented by a fiber-rich diet. Adding fiber to the diet helps lower blood sugar levels, which is important in avoiding diabetes. In addition, some people with diabetes can achieve a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels and may be able to reduce their medication. In addition, rapid digestion leads to a rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream. To cope with this, the body has to release large amounts of insulin into the bloodstream, and this can make a person more likely to develop gall stones and kidney stones as well as diabetes and high cholesterol.
The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recommends that adult males under 50 consume 38 grams of fiber a day (men 50+ should eat around 30 grams daily), and adult women should include about 25 grams (for 50+: 21 grams) in their diet. That may sound like a lot by itself, but there are some simple ways to ensure you are getting your fair share of fiber. Choose whole-grain breads and pasta over processed products. Eat more of your fruits and vegetables raw, leaving the skin on whenever possible. Replace juices with whole fruit to feel fuller and get more nutrition for the same number of calories. Snack on nuts instead of chips; the healthy omega-3 fatty acids will help you feel full, with the added benefit of fiber.
Here are some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic on how to add more fiber into your diet:
- Eat a high-fiber cereal for breakfast (5 or more grams of fiber per serving). You can also add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Add crushed bran cereal of unprocessed what bran to baked products such as meatloaf, breads, muffins, casseroles, cakes and cookies. You can also use bran products as crunchy topping for casseroles, salads or cooked vegetables.
- Switch to whole-grain breads. These breads list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. Look for a brand with at least 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
- Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking bread. Whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. When using baking powder, increase it by 1 teaspoon for every 3 cups of whole-grain flour.
- Eat more whole grains and whole-grain products. Experiment with brown rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur.
- Take advantage of ready-to-use vegetables. Mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce. Snack on baby carrots.
- Eat more beans, peas and lentils. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad. Or make nachos with refried black beans, baked tortilla chips and salsa.
- Eat fruit at every meal. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are good sources of fiber.
- Make snacks count. Fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, and low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers are all good choices.