What is fiber and what are high fiber foods?
The textbook definition of fiber, according to the Food and Nutrition Board and outlined by MedicineNet.com is: non-digestible carbohydrates… that are intrinsic and intact in plants. This includes plant non-starch polysaccharides (for example… fibers contained in oat and wheat bran), oligosaccharides, lignin, and some resistant starch. In laymen’s terms, “Dietary fiber is the term for several materials that make up the parts of plants your body can’t digest.” (American Heart Association)
But I thought we were supposed to eat foods we could easily digest!
Well, we are, but the thing is, some foods need to go through our system slowly (soluble fiber) whereas others need to go through quickly (insoluble fiber). Soluble fiber foods are more easily digestible.
These are good examples of soluble: apples (without the skin), pears, banana, papaya, avocados, strawberries and blueberries; cooked carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, yams, lentils and kale; whole grains, millet, yogurt, oats, rice, toast, saltine crackers and white rice.
Insoluble fiber foods include things like vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, fruit skins and root vegetable skins, whole-wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds and nuts.
Personally, I’m conflicted as to the optimum ratio of soluble to insoluble. On one site I read that it should be 75:25 insoluble to soluble. But, in The IBS Healing Plan, by Theresa Cheung she suggests eating a higher ratio of soluble and eating insoluble “with caution.” I would like to think that a healthy person, without digestive issues, would be able to maintain a 50:50 ratio.
So then, how much should I be getting?
According to a Harvard, School of Public Health study, you should be getting “14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories of food.” That roughly equated to 25 grams of fiber for women and about 30 for men.
How many grams of are found in foods?
Knowing that you need 25-30 grams of fiber a day is great, but no one tells you exactly what that means? Who knows how much fiber is in anything? Well, here are a few tips:
- Any packaged food has on its label, fiber content, calories, ingredients, etc. If you want to know the fiber content of something, be sure to read the label.
- For fruits and veggies and things that don’t come with a label try checking online at least in the beginning. CalorieCount.net lists thousands of foods and their fiber content; you only need to enter a food into their search box to find the foods you’re looking for. One cup of blueberries, for example, has 3.5 grams of fiber; a banana has 4; 1/4 cup of raisins has 2.
- For a list of foods with the highest fiber content I found Today’s Dietician to be a great resource. Unfortunately, many of these sources of info on fiber still don’t tell you whether something is soluble or insoluble. But again, the important thing is getting a total number of fiber.
What are the health benefits?
Fiber can help people with irritable bowel syndrome, hemorroids, diarrhea, constipation and diabetes. However, did you know that fiber may also help prevent certain types of cancers, and prevent heart disease, diverticulosis and gallstones? Additionally, a high-fiber diet is great for weight-loss. Soluble fiber, in fact, helps keep blood sugar levels from spiking after a meal.
Is there such a thing as too much?
The American Diabetes Association recommends 25-50 grams of fiber a day; the American Heart Association recommends 25-30; and the American Dietetic association recommends 25-35 grams a day. I would suggest anything over 50 grams of fiber a day may be a bit too much, especially if you’re getting your fiber from processed, packaged foods like fiber cereal bars or supplements. Most, if not all, of your fiber should come from natural foods (meaning fruits, veggies, nuts and legumes and whole grains).
What about supplements?
Occasionally, I decide I need a fiber supplement. I’ve used both Metamucil and Res-Q Land ‘n’ Sea Fiber, and to be honest, I think the Res-Q Land ‘n’ Sea is better. They are both made from psyllium seed husk, but the Res-Q product has a higher ratio of soluble fiber (4 grams of it to Metamucil’s 3 grams), and it tastes better. Metamucil turns a little sludgy when mixed with juice, whereas Res-Q’s retains a more grainy texture and can be sprinkled over my oatmeal in the morning without compromising the taste or texture. Metamucil also puts artificial colors and flavors into their product; Res-Q doesn’t.
Whatever product you choose to add to your daily regimen, make sure it’s an all-natural psyllium-based fiber product, and not an over-the-counter laxative or “stool softener” for temporary relief of constipation. Big difference. A natural fiber supplement is safer, long term, whereas a stool softener, if used for a prolonged time, can damage the muscular function of the bowels to the point of dependence. On the flip side, fiber supplements may bind with certain substances and interfere with the absorption of some nutrients, so it is best to take fiber supplements separate from other vitamin and mineral supplements. The bottom line with fiber is to make sure you are getting it naturally, in the foods you eat. Eating processed, high fat foods with little to no nutritional value while adding a fiber supplement to your diet really isn’t the point.
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