YOU NEED THIS!
 
You probably aren’t eating enough of this nutrient.  It’s time to change that. 
Here’s your ‘everything’ guide to fiber.
 

 

Everyone and their grandmother has heard the recommendation to “eat more fiber”, yet a staggering 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough in their daily diet.  Heck, most of us don’t even know how much we need in the first place.  Like: what’s the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber, and is one more important than the other?  Is the roughage you get in a Fiber One Mint Fudge Brownie just as beneficial as the kind in an apple or a serving of beans?  And how big a deal is dietary fiber for your weight and health, really? 

 

One thing is clear: despite falling way short, we definitely care about this indigestible carbohydrate.  Fiber ranks second on the list of things people are trying to eat more of (whole grains, which contain fiber, took the first spot).  So let’s clear up a thing, or 20, and get to the bottom of your questions, sort myths from fact, explore the many (many!) health perks of fiber, and give you easy ways to up your game.

 

First, the basics: women should get at least 25 grams, men 38 grams per day, minimum.  These numbers are based on research linking that amount with a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.  Because the body doesn’t break down fiber, it won’t increase blood sugar levels, which can help prevent and even manage diabetes.  For your heart: it absorbs “bad” LDL cholesterol and ushers it out of your body.  As well, a fiber-rich diet can prevent a whole host of other health conditions, plus facilitate weight loss.

 

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fiber absorbs water and bulks up in your stomach, which promotes a feeling of fullness.  It’s also the type that acts like a sponge on cholesterol.  Good sources of soluble fiber include beans and lentils, as well as carrots, oatmeal, apples and citrus fruits.  Insoluble fiber is like nature’s broom.  It helps speed up the passage of waste through your digestive tract and reduces the risk of colon cancer and other disease.  It’s often referred to as ‘roughage’ because it comes from the woody, or structural, part of plants, such as broccoli stems, the outer kernel of corn, wheat and whole-grain cereals, as well as the skin and seeds of fruits and vegetables.   You need both types of fiber in your diet, but experts say you don’t need to worry about how many grams of each you get.  Most fiber-rich foods contain some of both, anyway.  As long as you eat plenty of vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, fruits and whole grain that are high in total fiber, you’ll get the benefits of both.

 

And that’s where reading labels comes in.  Food manufacturers add all sorts of enticing labels to products, like “Whole Grain” and “Good Source of Fiber”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the fiber powerhouses you’re hoping for.  Here’s the deal: in order to be “high-fiber” a food must contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving (20 percent of the daily value) as required by the FDA.  If it has between 2.5-4.9 grams per serving, it can be labeled as a “good source of fiber”.  And if it has at least 2.5 grams of added fiber, the food can boast “more fiber” or “added fiber”.   Products labeled “whole grain” can lull you into a false sense of fiber-richness.  Whole grain means you’re getting all three parts of the grain, including the brain, which is where the fiber is, so it’s definitely more nutritious, but it doesn’t guarantee that it’s high in fiber.  You’ll have to look for the actual grams of fiber to be sure.

 

The average American gets a measly 17 grams of fiber a day.  And most of it comes from pizza crust and pasta noodles, which are low in fiber but because we eat so much of them, it adds up.  Meanwhile, better-for-you foods that are loaded with fiber, like beans, peas and lentils, make up only 6 percent of our diets.  We need to eat more vegetables, beans and legumes.  Time to up the ante!

 

Ten Great Things that will Happen if You Meet
your Fiber Goal
 
When do you think of fiber as exciting?  Yeah, that would be never.  But this list may help you change your mind.
 
  1. You’ll lose weight, even if increasing your fiber intake is the only dietary change you make.  Fiber-rich foods not only fill you up faster and keep you satisfied longer, they also prevent your body from absorbing some of the calories in the foods you eat.  Fiber binds with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through your digestive tract, which reduces the number of calories you actually get. 
  2. Maintain a healthier weight over time.  Yep, it can also help you avoid putting pounds back on.    People who eat more fiber tend to be leaner overall.
  3. Cut your type 2 diabetes risk.  It’s a well-established fact.  People who eat the most fiber, more than 26 grams per day, lowered their odds of the disease by 18 percent.  Fiber’s one-two punch of keeping blood sugar levels steady and keeping you at a healthy weight may stave of the development of diabetes.
  4. Lower your odds of heart disease.  For every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, your risk of heart disease drops by 9%.  That’s partly due to fiber’s ability to sop up excess cholesterol in your system and ferry it out before it can clog your arteries.
  5. Have healthier gut bacteria.  The good bugs that make up your microbiome feed off fiber, and flourish.  As your gut bacteria gobble up fiber that has fermented in your GI tract, they produce short-chain fatty acids that have a host of benefits, including lowering systemic inflammation, which has been linked to obesity and nearly every major chronic health problem.  The catch: you’ve got to consistently get enough grams, ideally every day, if not most days of the week, to keep getting the benefits.  Skimping on fiber shifts bacteria populations in a way that increase inflammation in the body.
  6. Reduce your risk of certain cancers.  Every 10 grams of fiber you eat is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 5 percent fall in breast cancer risk.  In addition to the anti-cancer effects of fiber, the foods that contain it, like vegetables and fruits, are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds.
  7. Live Longer.  Period.  People who consume a high fiber diet, from variable sources, reduced the risk of death from any cause.
  8. Be more regular.  Snicker all you like, but constipation is one of the most common GI complaints in the United States.   And you don’t need to be told it’s no fun.  Fiber makes your poop softer and bulkier, both of which speed its passage from your body.
  9. Get an all-natural detox.  Who needs a juice cleanse?  Fiber naturally scrubs and promotes the elimination of toxins from your GI tract.  Soluble fiber soaks up potentially harmful compounds, such as excess estrogen and unhealthy fats before they can be absorbed by the body.   And because insoluble fiber makes things move along more quickly, it limits the amount of time that chemicals like BPA, mercury and pesticides stay in your system.  The faster they go through you, the less chance they have to cause harm.
  10. Have healthier bones.  Some types of soluble fiber, dubbed “prebiotics” and found in asparagus, leeks, soybeans, wheat and oats. Have been shown to increase the bioavailability of minerals like calcium in the foods you eat, which may help maintain bone density.

 

Shaun Dreisbach

**Check the May 2016 newsletter for more great information about dietary fiber!