Improve Your Health – Add More Fiber in Your Diet
Fiber is the part of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains that our bodies cannot digest or break down. Fiber can help lower cholesterol, better regulate blood sugar levels, and may prevent intestinal cancer.
What is fiber?
Fiber is the structural part of plant foods–such as fruits, vegetables, and grains–that our bodies cannot digest or break down. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber: dissolves in water to form a gummy gel. It can slow down the passage of food from the stomach to the intestine.
- Insoluble fiber: often referred to as “roughage” because it does not dissolve in water. It holds onto water, which helps produce softer, bulkier stools to help regulate bowel movements
What are some guidelines to increasing dietary fiber?
This guide provides basic information to help you start increasing dietary fiber in your diet. These are general guidelines that may be tailored to meet your needs. Fiber is an important dietary substance to help support your health. Making changes in your current eating habits will help you eat more healthfully. Most fiber-containing foods are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which offer many health benefits. A registered dietitian can provide in-depth nutrition education to help you develop a personal action plan.
What healthful things does fiber do?
Research has shown that a diet rich in fiber is associated with many health benefits, including the following:
- Lowers cholesterol: Soluble fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol by binding to bile (composed of cholesterol) and taking it out of the body. This may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Better regulates blood sugar levels: A high-fiber meal slows down the digestion of food into the intestines, which may help to keep blood sugars from rising rapidly.
- Weight control: A high-fiber diet may help keep you fuller longer, which prevents overeating and hunger between meals.
- May prevent intestinal cancer-Insoluble fiber increases the bulk and speed of food moving through the intestinal tract, which reduces time for harmful substances to build up.
- Constipation-Constipation can often be relieved by increasing the fiber or roughage in your diet. Fiber works to help regulate bowel movements by pulling water into the colon to produce softer, bulkier stools. This action helps to promote better regularity.
How much fiber should I eat?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming about 25-35 grams of total fiber per day, with 10-15 grams from soluble fiber or 14g of fiber per 1,000 calories. This can be accomplished by choosing 6 ounces of grains (3 or more ounces from whole grains), 2½ cups of vegetables, and 2 cups of fruit per day (based on a 2,000 calorie/day pattern). However, as we age, fiber requirements decrease. For those over the age of 70, the recommendation for women is 21 grams and for men 30 grams of total fiber per day.
Note: Eating a high-fiber diet may interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of some medications. Speak to your doctor about which medications to take with caution and when to take them. Fiber also binds with certain nutrients and carries them out of the body. To avoid this, aim for the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day. When eating a high-fiber diet, be sure to drink at least eight glasses of fluid each day.
Tips for increasing dietary fiber in your diet:
- Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once may cause cramping, bloating, and constipation.
- When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to increase fluids (at least 64 ounces per day) to prevent constipation.
- Buy bread with 2-4 grams of dietary fiber per slice.
- Buy cereals with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Choose cereals with a whole grain such as whole wheat or whole grain rolled oats.
- Choose raw fruits and vegetables in place of juice.
- Choose products that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, not enriched flour. Whole wheat flour is a whole grain–wheat flour is not.
- Try alternative fiber choices such as whole buckwheat, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, bulgur, wheat germ, chia seeds, hemp seeds, lentil pasta, and edamame pasta.
- Popcorn is a whole grain. Serve it low-fat without butter for a healthier snack choice.
- Try whole wheat bread and whole wheat pastas.
- Sprinkle bran in soups, cereals, baked products, spaghetti sauce, ground meat, and casseroles. Bran also mixes well with orange juice.
- Use dried peas, beans, and legumes in main dishes, salads, or side dishes such as rice or pasta.
- Eat the skins of raw fruits and vegetables.
- Add dried fruit to yogurt, cereal, rice, and muffins.
- Try brown rice and whole grain pastas.
- Choose crackers with a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Look for whole grain rye and wheat crackers.
Sneaky Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal
- Add flaxseed meal to oats, smoothies, yogurt, and baked goods—you can even try breading chicken or fish with it. A two-tablespoon serving contains 3.8 grams of fiber and a dose of omega-3 fatty acids to boot.
- Chia seeds have a whopping 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon. When they meet with water, they form a goopy gel that is great for thickening smoothies, making healthy puddings, or replacing eggs in cakes and cookies.
- While spinach and carrots aren’t as high in fiber as the veggies mentioned above, they can easily be sliced or grated and snuck into many dishes without much hassle: Try adding some to banana bread, shakes, eggs, or even a homemade pizza base.
- Food processors are fiber’s best friend. Purée some cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, or swap out rice for chopped-up cauliflower.