Benefits of Fiber
In my practice, I encourage people of all ages to incorporate more fiber into their diet. Most adults and children are consuming less than their daily requirements. When I do recommend fiber to people, the very next comment I usually receive is, “Those foods taste like cardboard!” After they tell me that, I start to review all the foods that provide fiber and the health benefits. Many fiber rich foods come from plant sources. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole grains cereals, breads and pastas are some examples. Many other products that naturally do not contain fiber, for example yogurt and powdered drinks, are now adding fiber. The reason is because they know we are a culture of not eating a lot of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, so they add it to products people will consume.
There are two types of fiber and both are important:
1. Soluble fiber combines with the fluid we consume and coats your intestinal wall and binds to cholesterol and reduces amount that is absorbed; which can aid in lowering cholesterol. It also delays the absorption of glucose and helps with blood sugar control with diabetes. Main sources: oats, barley, flax seeds, beans, peas, lentils, oranges, apples, carrots and root vegetables.
2. Insoluble fiber aids in keeping the digestive system running smoothly. It aids in making stool softer and larger, which is easier to eliminate. This can decrease the amounts of cancer causing agents that can be deposited in the intestines, which can prevent certain types of cancer. Main sources: bran, nuts, seeds, whole wheat products and green leafy vegetables. If people consume their daily requirements, along with a diet low in fat and saturated fat, they may reap many health benefits. Benefits include lowering cholesterol or reducing the risk of elevated cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or better controlling your blood sugars if you have type 2 diabetes, and it may also reduce your risk of developing colon cancer. Since fiber takes longer to digest, it can aid in satiety and may lead to weight loss. Plus, it can also aid in regular bowel movements.
- 1 to 3 year olds should get about 19g each day
- 4 to 8 year olds should get about 25g grams/day
- 9- to 13-year-old girls should get about 26g grams/day
- 9- to 13-year-old boys should get about 31g grams/day
- 4- to 18-year-old girls should get about 26g grams/day
- 14- to 18-year-old boys should get about 38g grams/day
- Adult males, under the age of 50 should get about 38 grams/day
- Adult males, over the age of 50 should get about 30 grams/day
- Adult females, under the age of 50 should get about 25 grams/day
- Adult females, over the age of 50 should get about 21 grams/day
Here are some ideas where people can make some small changes in order to increase fiber and decrease calories.
WHY DON’T AMERICANS GET ENOUGH FIBER?
People are stuck on convenience. One thing people do not stop to think about is that grabbing a fresh piece of fruit or a vegetable, versus a baked good or candy bar is convenient. Choosing whole foods, or other fiber rich snacks, can be more satisfying, lower in calories and fat. Habits form out of repetition and if people keep grabbing for foods that are high in fat and calories, they will be worried about more health concerns than their waistline. The average American consumes about 14 grams of fiber a day!! This is about half of what they actually need. Slowly adding fiber daily is recommended. Remember, to also maintain adequate hydration. If a lot of fiber is added all at once, you may experience abdominal pain, gas and bloating. Make sure that most of the fluids consumed are non-caffeinated to aid in adequate hydration. If weight is a concern, make sure those fluids are also no calorie/low calorie fluids.
It is recommended to consume “5 a Day” from fruits and vegetables. This is what is recommended to school aged children. The recommendations for women are seven servings a day and nine servings a day for men. We are now encouraging adults to aim for a minimum of five servings a day, because most of them do not consume their recommended amounts. People have to keep reminding themselves that whole fruits and vegetables are the lowest in calories, contain no fat and have adequate amounts of fiber. If you add them to any meal or snack, it can decrease the amount of calories and fat consumed and increase fiber. Fiber is like the “wonder pill” everyone is looking for. The only problem is that people don’t want to make healthy lifestyle changes, consistently, to reap all of the great health benefits. Why not start now?
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2010 Magazine