What is fiber?
Fiber is present to some degree in almost all plant species. There are 2 kinds of dietary fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to keep foods moving through the digestive system. Soluble fiber holds water, which softens the stool for easy bowel movements. Fiber is an important part of your diet. Studies found that a high-fiber diet can reduce incidents of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, stroke and death. It also aids in achieving healthy weight. High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you're likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer.
Benefits of Insoluble Fiber
- promotes regular bowel movement and prevents constipation
- removes fecal waste through colon in less time
- keeps an optimal pH in intestines to prevent microbes from producing cancer substances, therefore preventing colon cancer
Benefits of Soluble Fiber
- lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. Fiber can help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels.
- regulates blood sugar for people with diabetes Fiber can also slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels.
How much fiber should be in your diet?
You should have at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories you eat every day. Read the label on every food package to find out how much fiber a serving of the food will provide. Foods containing more than 20% of the daily value of fiber per serving are considered high in fiber. Therefore, you should be consuming 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.
What are good sources of fiber?
Breads, cereals, and pasta made with whole grain flour, and brown rice are high fiber foods. Many breakfast cereals list the bran or fiber content, so it's easy to know which products are high in fiber. All fruits and vegetables also contain fiber. Dried beans, leafy vegetables, peas, raisins, prunes, apples, and citrus fruits are all especially good sources of fiber.
What are tips for increasing fiber?
Start your day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal. Check labels on the packages for the amounts of dietary fiber in each brand.
- Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Include fruits or vegetables with every meal. Use carrot sticks or apple slices for snacks.
- Cooked fiber is just as effective as raw fiber, so incorporate high-fiber foods in your cooking.
- When preparing food leave edible skins and seeds and use whole-grain flours.
- Serve fruit-based desserts.
- Replace white bread with whole-grain breads and cereals. Eat brown rice instead of white rice
It's important to drink more fluids when you increase the amount of fiber you eat. If you don't already drink over 6 glasses of liquid a day, drink at least 2 more glasses of water a day when you increase your fiber intake.
How to get started?
Start slowly! Many people notice bloating, cramping or gas when they add fiber to their diet. Making small changes in your diet over a period of time can help prevent this. Start with one of the changes listed above, then wait several days to a week before making another. If one change doesn't seem to work for you, try a different one. You may have some gas or bloating at first, but your body will adjust in time.
Meredith Maxwell, M.D., M.H.A., attended the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, where she completed her family medicine residency, before joining the Touro Infirmary Health System. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine Diplomate.