Talk and advice about nutritional components seem to be in the news all the time. Low carb this, high protein that. But one thing that does not get near the attention that it should is fiber.
When you learn about all the benefits of getting enough fiber, it makes you wonder why we don’t talk more about it. According to the National Institutes of Health, dietary fiber is found in the plants you eat, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is sometimes called bulk or roughage.
Some people probably don’t talk much about fiber because we associate it primarily with normalizing bowel movements and relief of constipation. However, there are many other health benefits from fiber as well. Some studies suggest that high-fiber diets might also help with weight loss and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are two forms of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Both are good for us for different reasons. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance that binds to fats. This helps lower blood cholesterol levels, especially LDL, or bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose, which can help people with diabetes. Insoluble fiber is also helpful as it bulks up stool, helping it to move more efficiently through the body.
In general, whole fruits, legumes and vegetables are good sources of both types of fiber. Take an apple for instance; the skin is made up of insoluble fiber and the fleshy part contains soluble fiber.
The latest USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend women try to eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day. Our American average is only about 10 to 15 grams per day. In practical terms you could consume 27 grams of fiber by eating ½ cup chopped vegetables (4 g fiber), 1 medium size whole fruit with skin (4 g fiber), two slices 100 percent whole wheat bread (6 g fiber), ½ cup black beans (8 g fiber) and ¾ oatmeal (5 g fiber).
Dan Remley, our OSU Extension field specialist for Food, Nutrition, and Wellness, developed a great resource titled Fiber Fills You Up, Fills your Wallet and Fuels Your Health. In it Remley says, “High fiber meals have fewer calories, are affordable and can help your family feel full after a meal.”
He has a few fiber tips to help you gradually add more fiber to your day:
- Eat oatmeal several times a week.
- For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Choose for cereals with “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Serve a meatless dinner once a week. Substitute beans for meat.
- Eat two vegetable servings per meal.
- Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables.
- Add oatmeal to cookies.
- Snack on nuts, dried fruit and popcorn.
- Choose chips or crackers with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
On another note, there are some processed food products out there with added fiber sources. In some cases, this can be a helpful way to add more fiber to your diet. Just be aware these products may be high in calories and add more sugar or sodium than you realize. Your best bet is to eat as many whole fruits and whole grains as you can, rather than these formulated products.
Today I’ll leave you with this quote from Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Emily Marrison is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 740-622-2265.