Fiber does more than keep you regular

Happy new year!

This week, one of my Twitter followers (@formerfatkid) asked what my one nutrition-related resolution would be for women aged 25 and older. Of course, that got my wheels spinning… and I quickly decided it would be to EAT MORE FIBER!

Americans, men and women alike, consume only about half the recommended amount of dietary fiber. According to the American Dietetic Association, women should consume 25 grams of fiber and men about 38 grams of fiber each day. But, we don’t even come close. On average, we get about 15 grams per day. (So, perhaps this explains why there are so many cranky people out there!)

Why do we need fiber?
Whether you find humor in the old saying… “Beans, beans, good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you…” or not, there is some truth this adage. Fiber-rich foods (including beans) help lower blood cholesterol, promote regularity, slow digestion and promote weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that women eating a low-fiber, high-fat diet tend to be more overweight than those following a high-fiber, low-fat diet. Sounds like pretty good deal for popping a bowl of legumes, eh?

Does the type of fiber matter?
There are two types of dietary fiber.

  • Soluble: dissolves in water and may help minimize blood sugar surges after a meal. Primarily found in beans, oatmeal, some veggies and some fruits (apples, citrus, dried apricots, berries, mangoes)
  • Insoluble: does not dissolve in water, but helps with regularity and keeping us feeling fuller longer. Primarily found in whole wheat, whole bran, brown rice, vegetables and nuts and seeds.

However, there is no need to get bogged down trying to pinpoint just how much of each kind of fiber you’re eating. Your best bet for good health and a slim waist is to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods each day.

I’m sick of salads! How can I get more fiber in my diet?

Since fiber is found in carbohydrate foods, eat a plant-based diet most of the time. Here is a list of fiber-rich foods and some ideas on how to get more fiber into your time-strapped life!

  • Whole grains
    If you’re eating out, opt for the whole grain bread on sandwich or the oatmeal for breakfast. Choose brown rice instead of white.
    If you’re at the grocery store, select products with the word “whole” in the ingredients list. If it doesn’t say it, it probably isn’t a good high-fiber source. You can also look at the dietary fiber content: If it contains 3 or more grams of fiber per serving, it’s a good source of fiber. (If it contains 5 or more grams per serving, it’s an even better bet!)
    Sneak it in: Use whole grain pasta, 100% rye bread, whole grain crackers and cereals. Replace half of the enriched flour with whole grain flour or oats. Switch to corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Add brown rice and barley to soups and entrees.
  • Beans
    If you’re eating out, add beans to your salads or hummus to your sandwich.
    If you’re at the grocery store, buy beans, beans, beans! Dried beans are inexpensive, but do take some preparation (for soaking and quick-cooking). If you’d rather pay more for convenience, buy PBA-free cans. Lentils and peas (frozen work well) cook quickly.
    Sneak it in: Add beans, lentils and peas to soups, stews and salads. Serve black beans on tortillas with a little cheese, salsa and veggies. Add mashed beans to ground turkey or meat when making casseroles and burgers. Whip up some hummus using chickpeas, olive oil, tahini and roasted garlic… it’s delicious!
  • Vegetables
    If you’re eating out, choose vegetables, salad or veggie-rich soups as sides, starters or your main entree. Add as many veggies as possible to sandwiches, burritos and other dishes.
    If you’re at the grocery store, fill your cart with colorful vegetables. Fresh or frozen work great.
    Sneak it in: Add chopped or grated veggies to soups, stews, casseroles and sauces. Brush with olive oil and herbs and grill.
  • Fruits
    If you’re eating out, choose fruit as a side or a dessert.
    If you’re at the grocery store, choose fruits that you enjoy and find easy to eat. Again, fresh or frozen work great.
    Sneak it in: Add fruit to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, breads and other baked goods, dishes and desserts. Fruit makes a great snack!
  • Nuts, seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds
    Like fruits, nuts and seeds are easy to throw on cereals, yogurt, baked goods and make great snacks! Add flax or chia seeds to smoothies, cereal, yogurt and breads.

What about fiber supplements?
Get your fiber from real foods, not supplements. Few studies have shown that fiber in supplemental form provides the same healthful benefits as fiber from foods.

Here’s to a regular and healthy 2011!

1 Comment
  1. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It’s the little changes that will make the most important changes. Thanks for sharing!

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