Are you looking for that one miracle nutrient? One that tastes good AND is good for you? Does it exist? The answer is a resounding yes! Not only is there a powerful nutrient out there, but it can taste great (think sun-warmed strawberries). It’s fiber!
Fiber can be instrumental in helping to manage many conditions, such as:
• Heart Health – lowering cholesterol & triglycerides
• Diabetes – lowering blood sugar
• Cancer – reducing risk
• Weight Management – losing weight & keeping it off
• Digestive problem – preventing diverticulitis, decreasing constipation & hemorrhoids
Fiber is a “good” carb- it comes chock full of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (naturally existing plant chemicals that promote good health). There are two types of fiber known as soluble and insoluble. Both are good for your health. When you eat foods with fiber, you get both types – sometimes more soluble than insoluble and visa-versa.
Soluble fiber slows down the breakdown and absorption of foods; the result being blood sugar rises less drastically, which is good news for people with diabetes. Also, soluble fibers lower LDL “bad cholesterol” which is beneficial to people with heart disease.
For those wishing to decrease risk of cancer, interested in losing weight, wanting to be “more regular” or control hemorrhoids – insoluble fiber is key. Insoluble fiber makes you feel full, which is great if you’re trying to lose weight. It also increases the speed in which you send foods through your digestive tract, meaning it lessens your risk of exposure to cancer causing agents you may have eaten. Finally, because foods are pushed more quickly through your digestive tracts, your bouts of constipation and pain from hemorrhoids may steadily decrease.
Most adults need 20-35 grams of fiber daily. Unfortunately, the average American eats less than 15 grams each day. Fiber naturally exists in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Although the best source of fiber is from real food, you may find that the manufacturers are now adding it to your food; they call this “functional fiber”. These new functional fibers are from soluble and insoluble foods and are non-digestible, meaning they cannot be broken down and absorbed. The result is you feel full, but get no calories (which means you can lose weight and blood sugar is better controlled).
It is easy to find fiber on the shelves at the supermarket. There are many delicious foods that have naturally existing fiber you may want to add to your cart the next time you go shopping such as:
• Bran (e.g. oatbran, corn bran, wheat bran)
• Dry peas & beans (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, etc.)
• Fruit (e.g. blueberries, raspberries, oranges, apples, prunes, figs, raisins, etc.)
• Nuts & seeds (e.g. almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, ground flax seeds, etc.)
• Vegetables (e.g. spinach, beet greens, cabbage, winter squash, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.)
• Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, whole wheat, oats, whole wheat bread and pasta, etc.)
You may also want to check the ingredient list for functional fibers that have been mixed into your food to boost the fiber content (check cereals, crackers, cookies, jam, pasta, bread and other baked goods). Some words that mean you are eating extra fiber in every bite include: inulin, oligofructose, pectin, guar gum, polydextrose, polyols, resistant starch and wheat dextrin.
Knowing what to buy is one thing, but what do you do with that food once it is home in your kitchen? Here is an example of how much to eat in order to meet your daily requirement for fiber:
Food Fiber Grams
½ cup Kashi Go Lean 10
½ cup blueberries 2
1 cup 1 percent milk 0
1 ounce almonds 3.5
2 Slices Arnold Double Fiber Bread 12
3 ounces turkey breast 0
1 tbsp. low fat mayo 0
1 cup lettuce/tomato/onion 1.5
1 Peach 1.5
4 ounces chicken breast 0
1 cup garlic sautéed broccoli 2.5
½ cup cooked brown rice 2
1 cup 1 percent milk 0
Total Daily Fiber: 35 grams
Wait! Don’t take that bite! Before you start loading up on fiber, please take a moment to learn the best way to start this plan. Slowly introduce more fiber into your day, giving your body time to adjust. You’ll feel bloated, gassy and constipated if you start eating a lot of fiber all at once. Make sure you’re drinking at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water daily, which will help your body process all of that fiber. If you are over 65 years old, or have a pre-existing stomach problem (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or diverticulitis), check with your health care provider first. The right amount of fiber for you may be less than what is recommended for the general public. Now you can serve!
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. Is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, Feeding Hills and West Springfield. If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 786-1500.