Fill up on Fiber

Just for giggles Friday:  Did you hear about the hipster who burned his tongue on pizza? He ate it before it was cool.

Hey, remember when I accepted your dare to do a post on fiber?  Well, here it is!

I've received questions about fiber, and it's all over the health news nowadays, too. Fiber is in the spotlight!  Sure, you know by now that you're supposed to get enough fiber in your diet, but how much?  what kind? in what foods? why? SO MANY QUESTIONS! 


Read more for the what, why, and how:

What is fiber? 

Fiber, aka "roughage" or "bulk", is a carbohydrate that comes from the part of plant foods that the human body can't fully digest.  Instead of being broken down and absorbed, it goes straight through and out of the body, intact.  There are two different types of fiber:
(1) Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel.  This gel then prevents other materials, like fats and sugars, from being absorbed.  As a result, it can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
(2) Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve; instead, it acts like a sponge through the digestive track.  It retains its shape while absorbing things along the way, keeps you "regular" by promoting the movement of material through your digestive system. 

Why is fiber good for us?
Eating a high-fiber diet has been demonstrated to benefit us in the following ways:
  • Good for the heart: Fiber-containing foods have been associated with lower risk of heart disease.  Why?  As mentioned above, soluble fiber can reduce levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.  Also good for heart-health, it may reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
  • Slow digestion: With less food than other carbohydrates, you'll feel more full, and stay full for longer.  Therefore, you can wait a while until your next meal.  This, in turn, ...
    • Promotes healthy weight: Diets high in fiber are associated with healthier weights and lower rates of obesity. This has been attributed to the "fullness" effect of eating lots of fiber. For the same amount of calories, a high-fiber food will take up more room in your stomach. For example, think about an apple.  It's big and so filling, but not so high in calories.  Also compare enriched white pasta or bread to fiber-packed whole-grain varieties.  You'll need less of the whole-grain stuff to feel full. A bowlful of vegetables will do the trick, too!  Did you ever have a side of broccoli and feel SO stuffed after? Yep, that's fiber at its best. 
  • Regulates bowel movement: Insoluble fiber helps to make bulkier stools, which will then pass more easily and quickly through your system.  In this way, it can prevents and relieve constipation.  Regularly eating fiber means regularly going to the bathroom! 
  • Prevents disease:  Fiber keeps your body clean by helping to "clear out" digestive waste, toxins, cholesterol, and extra hormones.  As a result, research has shown effects of fiber on decreased risk of heart disease, colon cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and more.

How much fiber do we need? 
Most Americans only consume about 15 grams, but aim for 25-40 grams of dietary fiber per day.  The USDA and the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommend the following:
Mayo Clinic
If you haven't been getting much fiber at all up until now, ease in slowly so you don't shock your system.  Otherwise, you might experience some adverse symptoms.  Just try increasing your intake daily until you reach these suggested numbers.

What foods contain fiber? 
This is where we'll see why diets high in fiber are associated with so many health benefits.  If you eat lots of vegetables, you're getting lots of fiber!  

  • Soluble Fiber is found in...
    • Legumes (beans, lentils)
    • Barley
    • Oat bran and oatmeal
    • Chia seeds
    • Fruits (apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, blueberries)
    • Vegetables (cucumbers, celery, carrots)
    • Nuts
    • Flaxseeds

  • Insoluble Fiber is found in...
    • Wheat (whole grains, wheat cereals)
    • Vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, celery, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, onions, dark leafy greens, cucumbers)
    • Fruits (raisins, grapes, tomatoes)
    • Corn
    • Oat bran
    • Nuts
    • Barley
    • Couscous
    • Brown rice
    • Bulgur
    • Flaxseed
    • Skins of fruits and root vegetables (apples, potatoes)
Your body needs both soluble and insoluble fiber, and not all foods have both, so it's important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to meet your daily quota. Basically, to increase your fiber intake without looking specifically at the food and its fiber content, follow these tips provided by WebMD:
  1. Get the recommended amount.  You don't have to track it daily, but try it for a few days just to get a feel for how much you're getting now, and what it'd be like to actually get the recommended intake.
  2. Eat more fruits and vegetables!  You can see above where the fiber comes from. If you increase the produce in your diet, you'll be increasing the fiber, as well.
  3. Eat more whole grains.  That way, you're getting the fiber that's hiding in the brain and germ. 
  4. Eat less refined grains.  In these, the bran and germ are removed, so you'd miss out on fiber.
  5. Consider a supplement.  Try finding fiber in foods, first.  But if all else fails, try out a supplement.  Ask your doctor for a recommendation that'd be best for you.  Benefiber and Metamucil are popular brands that offer both capsules and powders, so you can choose to take it like a pill, or to mix it into water or food.  If you go that route, be sure to not buy flavored varieties or ones with artificial coloring.  (Those are bad for other reasons.)  The most basic form of fiber you can buy in a bottle would probably be straight-up psyllium husks.  Ask your pharmacist! 


Want more information? 

Some fiber-filled snack ideas:
  • Baby carrots and hummus
  • Popcorn
  • Celery sticks and peanut butter
  • Apple slices and peanut butter
  • Trail mix: almonds, walnuts, raisins (or any of those all by itself!)
  • Yogurt with flaxseed
  • Dried fruit (like apricots, prunes) 
  • Banana

Other favorite fiber friends of mine:
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Spinach
  • Whole wheat pasta, tortillas, pita, English muffins
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Peas
  • Melon
  • Artichokes

Try some of these websites, which have great tips on how to fit more fiber into your diet! 

OK, so do you get what all the hype is about now?  Maybe you knew this. Maybe you eat lots of these fruits, vegetables, and grains already.  Are they adding up to 25 or 30 grams each day? Which of your favorites can you eat more of?  What new foods might you want to start eating?   Dare you to start incorporating more of these foods into your diet, TODAY!

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