Fiber may seem like a pretty boring subject, but having enough fiber in your diet significantly lowers your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, diverticulitis, and obesity. It helps lower cholesterol, keep blood sugars in check, and helps you lose weight. Fiber can even can help boost your immunity, help you live longer, prevent allergies, and improve your mood as well.
WHAT IS FIBER?
Fiber is sometimes referred to as “roughage.” That’s because fiber helps makes up the structural parts of a plant and works differently in the body than protein, fats, or carbohydrates. Although fiber is technically a carbohydrate, it is not broken down into glucose (sugar molecules) like a typical carbohydrate is. It passes through the intestines intact, but it does a ton of work on its way out of our bodies.
Found in vegetables, fruits and legumes (all plants) Fiber comes in three main forms: soluble, insoluble, and fermented fiber.
- Soluble fiber is called that because it can dissolve in water and when it does, it changes to sort of a gel. This powerful gel helps to lower blood cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) levels. You can find soluble fiber in oats, barley, peas, lentils, beans, blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber can’t dissolve in water. This type of fiber helps get things moving in your intestines. By adding bulk to your stools it significantly helps with those troubled by constipation. So, where do you find insoluble fiber? In whole grains!
- Whole grains, (make sure it says “whole”) whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, brown rice, ALL your veggies – deep leafy greens like spinach and kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all great sources. Berries, seeds, and raw nuts are also great ways to increase your insoluble fiber intake. Many foods, like nuts and carrots, are good sources of both types of fiber.
- Fermentable fiber foods are a category of the above two types of fiber and are found in many fruits and vegetables that fall under either soluble or insoluble fiber categories, but they’re more likely to be soluble fibers. This type of fiber helps you take good care of your gut, which is a primary concern for all of us! Increasing the fermented fiber in your daily intake of food helps to increase the healthy bacteria in the colon (pro-biotics). What’s so important about “healthy bacteria” in your gut? Everything! It’s tied to immunity, mood, levels of inflammation in your body which when gone awry contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s, and auto-immune diseases. Fermented types of fiber help lower bad cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and even help with digestion and absorption on nutrients. You can find fermentable fiber in chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, yams, dandelion greens, leeks, onion, garlic, and bananas.
BENEFITS OF FIBER
- Supports weight loss
- Reduces cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Lowers risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart disease
- Helps to prevent diabetes
- Benefits digestive and bowel health
- Builds up and fuels healthy gut bacteria
- May help prevent food allergies
- New researchsuggests that fiber could play a role in preventing food allergies. Once again, we look at the interaction between fiber and bacteria in the gut. Fiber helps produce a bacterium called Clostridia, which helps keep the gut secure and prevents large particles of undigested foods from entering the body. This is a two-fold bonus: because the intestinal lining becomes more secure and less particles leak out, it means that the body’s immune system doesn’t get alarmed and thereby reduces the likelihood of increased inflammation.
- Helps you live longer
- A study that looked at a diet rich in fiber found those eating the most fiber (29.4 grams per day for men and 25.8 grams per day for women) were 22% less likely to have died than those who ate the least amount of fiber over an average of nine years later.
- May decrease the risk of cancer
HOW MUCH FIBER DO YOU NEED?
If you are under 50: 38 grams for men / 25 grams for women
If you are over 50: 30 grams for men / 21 grams for women
For children ages 1 through 18: 14 to 31 grams of fiber per day (depending on age, weight, and sex)
WHERE TO FIND FIBER:
Where do you find fiber? Plants! Fill out your plate at each meal with a focus on plant sourced foods like
- Whole-grains: Grains come in 2 forms – whole grains and refined grains. Whole Grains are where you get your fiber from!
- Whole grains contain the entire grain – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Find whole grains in whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, rye, barley, corn, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa, and sorghum.
- Refined grains have been ground into a flour which means that both the bran and germ are removed. Removing the bran and the germ removes the fiber, B-vitamins, and iron, which are all important nutrients. Refined grains are found in wheat flour, enriched bread, and white rice.
- Beans, peas, and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
TIPS TO GET MORE FIBER IN YOUR DIET
If you are not used to eating a lot of fiber in your diet it may cause some intestinal distress so GO SLOW. Gradually introduce more fiber each day to get to your required amounts. And be sure to drink plenty of water as well!
- Eat whole fruits and veggies (not juice)
- Swap brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal instead of white rice, white bread, or regular white pasta.
- Eat your veggies! Make vegetables half of your plate for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. In the morning, just add baby spinach to your morning shake (you can’t even taste it!) or toss leftover veggies in your eggs.
- Chop some veggies up for a snack and a small packet of hummus instead of chips or pretzels.
- Use an air popper and pop up a bowl of popcorn – use a spray olive oil and your seasoning (if you are watching sodium be mindful of what you put on. Use some garlic powder or chili powder to spice up your popcorn). Bag it up and bring it with you on the road or to the office.
- Portion out unsalted raw nuts in small baggies and carry with you for when the hungries hit.
- Add beans to your salad, soup, meatloaf or eat warmed up as a side dish.
- Chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds are powerhouses of fiber and important nutrients and can easily be sprinkled on everything from your cereal, added to a protein shake or smoothies, or just sprinkle in your salad.
TRY A HIGH-FIBER RECIPE
- 5 or more different types of nuts
- Flax seeds
- 2 grains – oats, barley, and/or cream of wheat fiber
- Crush nuts and seeds- 1 tbsp for each legume and mix in a microwaveable bowl.
- Add 2 tbsp of each grain chosen. Add your preferred amount of water and microwave for 6 minutes. If you are adding raw honey let the porridge cool first to keep the honey alive. If you are adding maple, add it immediately. Finally, drown the porridge in almond of coconut milk.
This porridge is packed with fiber and good fats. It is beneficial to your digestive system and provides you with natural energy. Feel free to customize it to your own liking!
(Recipe courtesy of Trenton Edwards, a fellow driver.)
By: Cynthia (Cindy) Luisi, BA, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach