Hidden inside the healthy foods we eat every day is a digestive powerhouse, otherwise known as fiber. It comes in many forms and provides many essential services for our digestive system. Fiber also contributes to our overall health in many positive ways. It can aid in weight loss, decrease risks for certain diseases, keep our digestive tract moving along, and leap tall building in a single bound! Okay, maybe not the last one, but definitely the other three 🙂
But what has it done for me lately?
Fiber comes in two types: Soluble and insoluble. As with vitamins, knowing which kind does what is important, and tells you how the body will use the fiber you ingest. Fiber contributes to three areas of digestion: bulk, viscosity, and fermentation.
Soluble fiber breaks down in the intestines and promotes the digestion and absorption of other nutrients. Insoluble fiber does not digest in the same way. Instead it absorbs water and adds bulk to our waste. Insoluble fiber can also bind to some bile acids making them less likely to enter the body. This in turn can lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
In addition to soluble and insoluble, fiber also comes in the form of “natural” and “added”. These are self-explanatory. Any non-plant origin food that contains fiber, has most likely had it added during manufacturing. Basically, fiber is stripped from another food source and added to the fortified food. This is why you can find fiber in places like ice cream and orange juice. It may be listed on the ingredients in one of the following ways: maltodextrin, polydextrose, inulin, guar gum, or psyllium.
Both kinds of fiber increase food volume without increasing caloric content. This may reduce the appetite and help you feel fuller longer, because it also takes longer to digest foods containing fiber. Soluble fiber attracts water when it breaks down and forms a viscous gel, which slows the emptying of the stomach. This lowers the variance in blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber can lower the total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A Tufts University study found that women who added 14g of fiber to their daily diets lost, on average, more than four pounds in four months. High-fiber foods require more chewing, slowing down eating, and promoting satiety.
Pretty amazing stuff, huh? But wait! There’s more (as Mr. Popeil would say)
There are an endless number of sources for fiber. In general, if it’s a plant, it has fiber in it of one type or the other. Most fruits have both types. The flesh of apples and pears for example contain soluble fiber while their skins contain insoluble. Same for potatoes, especially sweet potatoes. A medium-sized sweet potato contains around 5g of fiber. And if you’re a fan of lentils or split peas, a mere 1/2c of them, cooked, contains 8g of fiber!
On average, Americans tend to eat less than half of what they should be getting. This can be attributed to a number of factors both in and out of our control. Women under 50 should aim for around 25g per day; over 50, around 21g. For men the numbers are slightly higher: 38g before 50 and 30g after.
If you’re not used to eating a day’s recommended intake of fiber, then make small changes. Add some fruits and vegetables to your diet every day. Generally a single serving is only 1/2 cup, which isn’t very large at all. Plus, one side effect of having too much fiber, or more than your body is used to is bloating and excess gas, which is created as the nutriet is digested. Be sure to drink plenty of water too, to stave off constipation from having a high-fiber diet.
That’s all good and well. I get that fiber is important, but what does a day of fiber look like?
So glad you asked 🙂
Borrowed from All You’s article “Get the Facts on Fiber” August 24, 2012 issue.
3/4c bran flakes & 1/2 c grapefruit (6g)
1 med orange )3g)
1 c Romaine lettuce
1 large carrot
1/2 c cherry tomatoes
1 c chunky chicken noodle soup (9g)
1 oz raw almonds (3.5g)
1 sweet potatoe, baked
1/2 c peas (7g)
(over all: approx 29g fiber in a mix of insoluble and soluble)
Here is a list of fiber sources and content gleaned from places around the web. Always check nutrition labels for more exact info, though 🙂 And if you have a health concern, be sure to talk to your doctor or nutritionist before making any dramatic changes to your diet or exercise regime. The info I present to you is merely intended to be informational, and should not be used to diagnose or treat any ailments or health conditions. I offer a jumping off point for you to do additional research into living a healthier lifestyle 🙂
Navy Beans – 9g (1/2 c cooked)
Lentils, split peas – 8g (1/2 c cooked)
Pinto/black beans – 7.5g (1/2c cooked)
Kidney/lima beans – 6.5g (1/2 c cooked)
100% bran flakes 5g – 3/4 c
Oats – 4g – 1c cooked
Bulgur wheat – 4g – 1/2c cooked
Whole-wheat spaghetti – 3g – 1/2c cooked
barley – 3g – 1/2 c cooked
Artichoke – 10g – 1 med
sweet potato – 5g – 1 med
peas – 4g – 1/2 c cooked
parsnips – 3g – 1/2 c cooked
carrots – 2.5g – 1/2 c cooked
Nuts: (1 oz servings)
Almonds – 3.5g
Pistachios – 3g
Pecans – 2.5g
Walnuts/Brazil nuts – 2g
Cashews/pine nuts – 1g
Asian pear – 10g – 1 large
Bosc pear – 6.5 – 1 large
Dates – 6g – 1/2 c
mango – 5.5g – 1 med
Raspberries/blackberries – 4g – 1/2 c
Apple – 4.5g – 1 med
some fruits and fruit juices such as plump, prune, berries, bananas, and the flesh of apples and pears
vegetables such as broccoli contain fiber.
psyllium seed husk, flax seeds
nuts (almonds are the highest in dietary fiber)
Insoluble fiber is found in the skins of many of these sources.