Fiber is a substance that brings up different images for different people. Some have positive associations with the health benefits of this carbohydrate, but most approach fiber rich food with skepticism. A look into what fiber is will help you to develop a fondness for this misunderstood nutrient.
Fiber is a plant component in all fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. There are two types of fiber, insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water but floats or sinks instead. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel. Both types increase satiety and aid in weight loss due to being nutrient dense and low in calories.
Soluble fiber like oatmeal forms a gel with stomach acid allowing it to bind to fats. This decreases fat absorption and decreases the amount of cholesterol produced to transport the fats through the blood stream. Less cholesterol-bound fat in the blood stream means less plaque-like buildup. Less plaque can reduce the likelihood of atherosclerosis leading to a heart attack or stroke. The studies linking soluble fiber to decreased cholesterol all studied the gel forming and trapping benefits of soluble fiber with saturated fats.
Fiber gels in the stomach not only decrease your cardiovascular risks but will also decrease your risk of diabetes by reducing the absorption rate of sugar. Complex carbohydrate meals don’t absorb as quickly into the blood stream as simple carbohydrate meals. By moderating the rate of sugar absorption, fiber moderates the release of insulin. This equalizes your energy and prevents the drastic blood sugar highs and lows associated with diabetes.
There are many types of soluble and insoluble fibers and every type is important for keeping you as healthy as possible. Soluble fiber adds bulk to stool and insoluble fibers acts as pipe cleaners keeping you healthy and decreasing your risk for digestive cancers, constipation, hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a host of other intestinal ills. Neither soluble nor insoluble fiber is readily absorbed by the intestinal cells, preventing compounds bound to the fiber from being reabsorbed.
The richest source of the different main fiber types can be found in the following table. The common theme is whole grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables.
|Insoluble Fiber||Soluble Fiber|
|Bran||Whole grains||Whole grains||Whole grains||Guar gum||Oats||Bananas|
|Vegetables||Apples||Fruit with edible seeds||Legumes||Okra||Beets|
The Diabetes and Cardiovascular associations recommend eating 30-50 grams of fiber per day. That’s equivalent to 5-10 cups of lettuce. For best nutrient intake though, rotate your foods and fiber types and increase your fiber intake slowly. Increasing your fiber can affect your medication dosages as well as decrease the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium – if you are taking a fiber supplement be sure to do so separately from your vitamins and medications.
You can add fiber by switching your breads to whole grain varieties, adding legumes to your diet 3-4 times a week, and adding whole grains to your recipes. Oatmeal, oat bran, wheat germ, or rice bran can be added to hot cereal, yogurt, meatloaf, meatballs, or hamburgers. Another trick is to use whole wheat pastry flour when baking. It’s light and fluffy and won’t make your baked goods dense like traditional whole wheat flour.
By adding a little fiber to every meal you can make a big impact on your health. For breakfast try a high fiber whole grain cereal with wheat bran or ground flax seeds, berries, and walnuts. As a mid morning snack grab celery with peanut butter & raisins. Lunch could be a whole grain bread sandwich with hummus as spread, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, and roasted red peppers. Salmon with mango salsa on brown rice with asparagus spears for dinner and a baked apple with cinnamon for desert will end your day with a nutrient powered punch.