Much Ado about Fiber

May 16, 2018
 

By Kathleen Shafer, M.A., R.D.

Fiber, a somewhat misunderstood nutrient, often gets a bad rap when it comes to taste. The word fiber can bring to mind chewing on cardboard. No way! That was your grandfather's fiber! We're going to be focusing on the hippest, coolest fiber ever! You will learn tips and tricks to add this important component to your meals plus what are the different types of fiber and what some of those label terms actually mean.

The benefits of fiber are numerous: it can add to your level of fullness (satiety) as it slows stomach emptying, can help lower your blood cholesterol, helps prevent constipation and diverticulitis, and it can help keep your blood sugar within a healthy range. Fiber is known to help with bowel health and more and more information is being found about beneficial fiber and the gut microbiome. Feed those beneficial bacteria good high fiber foods and see how happy and healthy your gut can be.

Most Americans eat about half the amount of fiber they need on a daily basis. Daily fiber goals for women should be 25 grams while men should aim for 38 grams per day. Fiber is only found in plants and cannot be digested by our bodies. With a few simple and tasty tweaks you can increase the amount of fiber in your diet. One great way to increase your intake is to toss that potato peeler away. Eating the skin or peel of fruits and vegetables can be a great source of fiber - and vitamins and minerals. For example - one medium apple with skin contains 4.4 grams of fiber, ½ cup of applesauce contains 1.4 grams, and ½ cup of apple juice contains no fiber at all. Beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds are great sources of fiber. The more processed a food actually is - the less fiber seems to be present.

When you are increasing the amount of fiber you eat - be sure to do so gradually and drink plenty of water. Fiber needs water to plump it up and if you don't have enough fluid you might experience nausea or constipation. That's not what we are looking for.

You are, no doubt, wondering to yourself about the differences between soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and good food sources are whole grains, fruits and seeds. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve and is found in the wall of the plant. Good sources of this are brown rice, legumes and wheat bran. It is important to have both types in your diet to enjoy the health benefits listed above.

To be considered a "good source of fiber" a food must have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving. To be considered an "excellent source of fiber" the food must have at least 5 grams per serving. Whole grain products indicate that there is little to no refined white flour. Read the labels carefully for "12 grain or multigrain" breads - it doesn't matter how many grains are there - we want them to be whole grains.

So what can you do? Add black beans to your salad for a pop of color, creaminess, and 7.5 grams of fiber per ½ cup. 1 cup of fresh raspberries brings another 8 grams of fiber to the meal, while 3 cups of air-popped popcorn can be a great snack with 3.6 grams of fiber.

Other ways to easily add some extra fiber to your day includes: Adding some shredded carrot and cucumber to your sandwich and have it on whole grain bread or in a whole grain pita.

  • Try the slightly nuttier tasting whole grain pastas for your pasta salad and other pasta dishes.
  • Use your favorite vegetable soup recipe and add some cannellini beans, lentils or pinto beans along with your favorite greens - like swiss chard, spinach or kale.
  • Your favorite raw veggies can also be a tasty snack.

Fiber rich foods also contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals and those add to your health and wellness. If your diet is lacking in fiber - you might be trailing in those essential nutrients as well. Read your labels, feed your healthy gut bacteria all sorts of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains and stay happy and healthy.

The author is director of Nutrition Services at NorthBay Healthcare.

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