What is fiber?
Dietary fiber, sometimes called “roughage”, is the indigestible portion of plant foods that pushes food through the digestive system, absorbing water and easing defecation.
Dietary fiber can be soluble (able to dissolve in water) or insoluble (not able to dissolve in water). Soluble fiber, like all fiber, cannot be digested. But it does change as it passes through the digestive tract, being transformed by bacteria there. Soluble fiber also absorbs water to become a gelatinous substance that passes through the body. Insoluble fiber, however, passes through the body largely unchanged,
Food sources of dietary fiber are often divided according to whether they provide (predominantly) soluble or insoluble fiber. To be precise, both types of fiber are present in all plant foods, with varying degrees of each according to a plant’s characteristics.
Potential advantages of consuming fiber are the production of health-promoting compounds during the fermentation of soluble fiber, and insoluble fiber’s ability (via its passive water-attracting properties) to increase bulk, soften stool and shorten transit time through the intestinal tract.
Eat more fiber
You probably know your weight. You may be a calorie, fat or carbohydrate counter. But do you have any idea how many grams of fiber you eat each day?
For most people, the answer is “not nearly enough” to reap all the benefits of the rough stuff, which include weight control, a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes and, relief from constipation and other bowel ailments.
Studies show that average adults consume from 5 to 15 grams of fiber a day, far short of the 21 to 38 grams that the Institute of Medicine recommends. Studies of children show similar shortfalls. It’s no wonder that constipation is the most common digestive ill reported to doctors.
And it’s no mystery why fiber intake is so low. Fiber — the indigestible part of plant-based foods — is plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. And we just don’t eat enough of those things.
“If people followed fiber requirements, it would transform their diets,” says Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman, agrees: “A diet that has an adequate amount of fiber-containing foods will have the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need.”
Make it fiber from Ma Nature’s foods
The fiber in packaged foods is often finely ground. Compared with the fiber of wholefoods, it doesn’t slow digestion, lower cholesterol, or improve regularity, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Best bets: Stick to natural fiber sources like artichoke, avocado, beans, bran-based cereals, edamame, fruits such as apples. pears and raspberries, leafy greens, lentils, oatmeal (and other whole grains), pistachios, and popcorn (air popped without added butter, salt, or added anything),
Do add more fiber slowly
A sudden increase could cause bloating, gas and other unpleasantness. And always add fluid as you add fiber. It’s the combination that keeps your gut working smoothly, says Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist from Chesapeake, Va. A few ways to start:
- Eat breakfast at home. Traditional at-home choices — cereals, fruits and whole-grain breads — are fiber-rich, while the world outside is full of doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches and other gut-clogging food.
- Make your cereal count. Look for at least 3 to 5 grams of fiber in a serving, Blatner says.
- Pack healthy snacks like trail mix, carrots, celery. “All you have to do is carry two apples to the office and you have 7 grams right there,” Tallmadge says.
- Avoid vending-machine temptations.
- Add beans, seeds and nuts to salads. Iceberg lettuce has less than 1 gram of fiber a cup; chickpeas have more than 6 grams in a half cup.
- In restaurants, look for bean and vegetable soups and whole-grain breads.
Of course, you could use one of those heavily marketed fiber supplements, which are pitched mostly to older consumers with chronic constipation and other gastrointestinal woes. (Short explanation: Older intestines work more sluggishly.)
But unless a doctor advises a supplement for a particular medical reason, resist. “Foods are more powerful than the sum of their parts,” Tallmadge says. When you eat high-fiber foods, she says, “you get so many more benefits.”
GO BANANAS FOR FIBER Here’s what you might eat in a day to get
Child age 10 (15 grams):
Pediatricians say children should eat 5 grams plus their age. (Grams)
- One medium banana 3.1
- 3/4 cup Quaker Oatmeal Squares 3.0
- 1/3 cup cooked whole wheat spaghetti 1.3
- 1/2 cup cooked sliced carrots 2.3
- One medium orange 3.1
- 2 cups air-popped popcorn 2.4
Women (25 grams), all of the above, plus:
- 1/2 cup black beans 7.5
- 1 oz. sunflower seeds 2.6
Men (38 grams), all of the above, plus:
- 1 medium peach, with skin 1.5
- 1 medium baked potato with skin 4.4
- 1/2 cup green peas, frozen 4.4
- 1 slice rye bread 1.9
- 6 whole almonds 0.8
Adults over age 50
Adults over 50 can consume less because they need less food overall, according to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board.
- 21 grams for women
- 30 grams for men
The Fiber Content of Foods
A list of fiber amounts in common foods, calculated by the US Department of Agriculture is posted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and can be found by clicking on http://library.umsmed.edu/pe-db/pe-fiber-food.pdf.
Another resource is Continuum Health Partners at http://www.wehealny.org/healthinfo/dietaryfiber/fibercontentchart.html
Popularity: 6% [?]