Everyone has probably heard that adding fiber, or roughage, into your diet is a key step toward a healthier lifestyle. But what dietary fiber is and why it is so important still remains a bit of an enigma to many of us.
Dietary fiber refers to carbohydrates from plant sources that your body cannot digest and absorb. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains, and can be categorized into two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water while insoluble fiber does not.
Soluble fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol and regulate blood glucose for diabetics. Insoluble fiber helps move bulk through the intestines and promotes regular bowel movements. Sources of soluble fiber include apples, beans and oatmeal. Insoluble fiber can be found in brown rice, carrots, and whole wheat bread.
In addition to the benefits of reduced risks of heart disease, constipation as well as better diabetes management, adequate fiber intake can also help with weight loss. Fiber-rich foods help with weight loss in three ways. First, these foods require more chewing time, which gives your body an opportunity to realize that you are full, decreasing the chances of overeating. Secondly, high-fiber foods have fewer calories per the same volume as processed foods so they are less energy dense. And lastly, fiber helps extend satiety, meaning you will feel full for a longer period of time.
Despite all these reasons to embrace fiber, most of us do not get enough. Nutrition experts recommend a daily intake of up to 35 grams of fiber. However, the average person living in the United States only consumes about 15 grams of fiber a day—less than half of the recommended intake, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Here are some simple tips to increase your fiber consumption:
1. Start the day the fiber way
• Eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving
• Add a tablespoon of ground flax seed or unprocessed bran to your cereal or oatmeal
• Swap the glass of juice for whole fruit. If the fruit is an apple or pear, leave the skin on for more fiber
2. Pack in protein with legumes
• Add kidney beans or northern white beans on top of your salad
• Add extra beans into your pasta sauce or chili
3. Get the most out of your snacks
• Choose fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grain crackers over chips or other heavily processed foods
If your current fiber intake is low, gradually increase your fiber intake to give your body a chance to adjust. Suddenly loading your body with fiber when it is not used to it may result in gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, cramping and excessive gas. Always remember to drink enough water and increase your fluid intake as you increase your fiber intake.