The Ins and Outs of Fiber

Different types of fiber and grains

You have to put fiber in your body to get, well, a lot of crap out of it. Here are some facts about dietary fiber, and how to get more of it in your diet.

Why is eating fiber important? An indigestible part of plants, fiber helps normalize bowel movements by bulking up your stool and binding the other foods to make passing them easier, preventing colon cancer and other diseases of the bowel by acting as a probiotic in the large intestine. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by binding to fats in the bloodstream and helps control your blood sugar by lowering the glycemic index of the food or meal. Fiber has been studied to aid in weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight, due to the fact that high fiber foods tend to be lower in calories, give the sensation of satiety (fullness), and alter hormone secretion and nutrient absorption in the gut (more food passed through instead of being stored as fat).

There are two basic types of fiber found in nature, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and is the kind of fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, and helps bulk up stool, for easier passing of food. Good sources of soluble fiber are vegetables, legumes (such as beans and lentils), oats, fruit, and barley. Insoluble fiber sources are whole wheat and corn bran, and vegetables (such as potato, parsnip, cauliflower, especially in the skins).

If you choose to supplement, the best fiber choices are psyllium fibers, but supplements miss out on many of the benefits of whole foods such as vitamins and minerals, and bioavailability; however, fiber supplements like the powders you add to water, can help people who are having trouble increasing fiber in their diet, or that have constipation. Also, don’t be fooled by fruit juices, just because they say 100% fruit doesn't mean they have the same fiber as the fruit, in the processing of these products most of the fiber is filtered out, basically leaving you with naturally flavored sugar-water.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that people under 50 years old have 38g of fiber a day for men and 25g a day for women. For people over 50 years that decreases to 30g for men and 21g for women. Surprisingly, most American’s do not meet these recommendations, and it’s not at all difficult!

What does a day of recommended fiber look like for a 40 year old woman?

Breakfast: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 1 cup raspberries and 1/2 cup plain yogurt = ~10g fiber
Lunch: 1/2 cup pinto beans, 2 corn tortillas, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 cup lettuce, 1 tomato = ~14g fiber
Snack: medium apple with one ounce almonds = ~8g fiber
Dinner: one cup cooked whole wheat spaghetti, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, grilled chicken breast = ~9g fiber
Total: about 39 grams of fiber! That’s more than recommended, and it wasn’t hard.

If your current diet does not include much fiber, increase your intake slowly. Increasing fiber intake too quickly can lead to digestive upset, constipation, bloating, and gas. Increasing your fiber with food you think taste great is an simple way to help you get on a healthy track.