When you first read through your patient manual, you probably saw the word “fiber” more than a few times. 20, to be exact. It’s basic principal #8, it’s mentioned in the tips about meal choices, and we even deemed it important enough to give its own page (#43), complete with an alphabetized chart. So, what exactly is fiber, and why are we so obsessed with it at Health Plus?
To begin with, Dietary-fiber is a plant-based form of nutrients, also referred to as roughage or sometimes bulk. Fiber is actually a form of carbohydrate, but unlike other forms of carbohydrates, our bodies can’t actually digest fiber. Instead of being turned into sugars and absorbed during digestion (which contributes to weight gain) fiber passes through our bodies undigested. And miraculously, this helps to moderate hunger and blood sugar, along with a many other healthy benefits.
The direct diet-benefit of eating foods that are high in fiber is that they feel more filling and satisfying for a longer duration than low-fiber foods. This is helpful when you’re trying to eat less. But fiber does so much more than this. It moderates glucose levels, lowers cholesterol, prevents heart disease and diabetes, is correlated with general longevity and, of course it keeps us comfortably regular.
There are two main categories of dietary-fiber, each with unique health benefits. Fibers fall into either the soluble or insoluble category. Many foods however have a healthy mix of the two types.
Soluble fiber, as its name suggests, dissolves in water. This fiber slows the absorption of sugar and helps lower glucose and cholesterol. Oatmeal, beans, lentils, barely, apples and citrus are all great ways to get more soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber, as you may have already guessed, does not dissolve in water and helps with digestion. Whole wheat, whole grains, bran, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cauliflower and potatoes, are all wonderful sources of insoluble fiber.
It’s also important to know that how food is prepared affects its fiber content. Refined and highly processed foods are lower in fiber. Canned foods, juices, refined white breads and pastas will have less fiber than whole grains and raw fruits and veggies. Once the fiber has been removed, it cannot be added back in, so even enriched foods have a lower fiber content. Cooking can also reduce the fiber content of otherwise healthy meals.
We recommend eating at least 30 grams of fiber a day but it is best to increase fiber intake gradually instead of all at once. Binging on fibers can cause cramps, gas and, bloating. Try increasing your intake about 5 grams a day and you may find switching to a high fiber diet more comfortable.
Lastly, fiber does its best work when we drink lots of water. It is important to increase the amount of water you drink as you increase fiber intake. This helps the fiber pass through our system efficiently.
Here are a few tips on how to increase your fiber intake:
Eat fruits and vegetables raw and whole instead of cooking or juicing them (this breaks down the fiber before you can eat it)
Snacks like raw carrots and apples are ideal
Leave the peel on foods like potatoes, carrots, and apples (this is where the highest concentration of fiber is found)
Use brown rice instead of white
Replace white breads and pastas with whole wheat and whole grain options
Add beans to your meal instead of meat, they are high in fiber and protein (especially when eaten with rice)
If we haven’t sold you yet on the many wonderful (possibly life-prolonging) affects of fiber you can read more about how it interacts with our bodies in these articles:
Harvard School of public health: The nutrition Source-Fiber
Mayo Clinic Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Dietary Fiber- Essential for a Healthy Diet
The New York Times Science: Fiber is Good for You. Now Scientists Know Why.