Fiber is good stuff.
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and the majority of Americans are not getting enough in our diets. Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains contain fiber which is a carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Adequate fiber in the diet helps keep bowel movements regular, prevents constipation and hemorrhoids, lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar, and can help with weight management. The American Dietetics Association recommends a daily intake of 25-38 grams of dietary fiber from food, not supplements. However, most people eat less than 15 grams per day, which is only about half of the recommended amount. There are two types of fiber--soluble and insoluble--and it's important to eat a balance of both types.
Soluble Fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel which slows down digestion. Essentially, it acts like a sponge in the gut. Soluble fiber helps you feel full longer, can help lower cholesterol, and also helps prevent spikes and drops in blood sugar because it slows how fast food is digested. It also creates volume in your digestive tract, and adding more soluble fiber will help add "bulk" to the stool. Aim to eat 6-8 grams of soluble fiber per day.
Good sources of soluble fiber: oats, oat bran, chia seeds, flax seeds, barley, dried beans and peas and certain vegetables and fruits, such as applesauce, strawberries, potatoes, citrus, prunes and berries.
Insoluble Fiber does
not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive tract mostly intact. This speeds up movement in your digestive system. Adding more insoluble fiber will keep bowel movements regular and prevents constipation by helping stool pass through the system more quickly.
Good sources of insoluble fiber: fruits and vegetables with skins, uncooked vegetables, nuts, legumes, brown rice, whole-grain flours, and psyllium (a common fiber supplement)
Tips to Increase Dietary Fiber.
You don't have to completely overhaul your diet to get the fiber you need. In fact, making small changes and substitutions over time is a more effective way to make fiber part of your regular diet and routine.
Grains and Cereals
* Choose whole grain bread, tortillas, crackers and cereal. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
* Use whole-wheat flour when possible in cooking and baking.
* Choose brown rice instead of white rice, and whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. If the switch is hard to make, start by mixing them together.
* Keep a jar of oat bran or wheat germ handy. Sprinkle over salad, soup, breakfast cereals and yogurt.
Legumes and Beans
* Add kidney beans, garbanzos or other bean varieties to your salads. Each 1/2 cup serving is approximately 7 to 8 grams of fiber.
* Substitute legumes for meat 2-3 times per week in chili and soups
Fruits and Vegetables
* Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Eat the peel whenever possible.
* Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juices. Juices don't have fiber.
* Add sliced banana, peach or other fruit to your cereal.
* Grate carrots on salads. Add shredded veggies into muffins or other baked goods.
* Add fresh or frozen fruit or veggies to a breakfast smoothie, or have fresh fruit for dessert.
Adjusting to a High-Fiber Diet.
Remember that the digestive system takes time to adjust to increases in dietary fiber, so be sure to increase your intake gradually! It can take a month or more to successfully transition to a fiber-rich diet. And too much fiber, too fast can result in gas, bloating and extra trips to the bathroom, all of which can discourage healthy diet changes. So take it slow, and follow the tips below for best results:
* Add no more than 5 grams of fiber to your diet every 3 days or so. Listen to your body and work toward a goal of 25-38 total grams per day.
* Eat a balance of insoluble and soluble fiber. About 80% of fiber intake should be insoluble.
* Drink plenty of water. Soluble fiber absorbs water, so drink extra to prevent constipation.
* Chew slowly and avoid carbonated drinks and gum.
* Reduce high fat and fried foods.
* Consider taking a probiotic.
* Exercise. This helps increase intestinal speed and helps alleviate gas.