by Grace Rivers, RDN, CDCES
Eating foods with fiber offers many advantages. You are helping to protect against heart disease whenever your eating pattern includes an optimal amount of fiber (which is a critical component of managing diabetes). On the flip side of this, low fiber eating habits may increase your chance of stroke, heart attack, and insulin resistance.
Other benefits of eating fiber
An eating pattern that includes enough fiber can help with managing weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also promotes a feeling of fullness for a longer time and can help to aid in having regular bowel movements.
Current recommendations for fiber intake
The recommendation for fiber intake is based on 14 grams for every 1000 calories eaten. The Adequate Intake for adult men 19 years and older is 30-38 grams daily. Adult women 19 years and older should aim for 21-25 grams. The amount varies based on the individual calorie intake and gender. This amount has been shown to provide for a healthier heart and cardiovascular system.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001-2010 showed adults only eat an average of 16 grams daily.
Not all fiber is the same
Fiber originates from plants and is called dietary fiber. Another type of fiber called functional fiber is isolated from foods because of its health benefit and added to other food products. Functional fibers can help change the texture of foods and decrease the amount of fat and sugar in some processed food products.
Digestion slows when you eat foods that contain soluble dietary fiber. Taming the rise in blood sugar and interfering with fat and cholesterol absorption, you benefit from more controlled blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering effects. Another advantage of soluble fiber is that it helps prevent constipation by forming a gel by drawing water into your gut. You also feel full for longer.
Soluble and insoluble dietary fibers occur in most plant foods. Insoluble fibers aid with digestion by moving more quickly through your gut and can help prevent constipation.
When eating foods with functional fiber, you do not receive the same benefits as whole plant foods. While fiber is in the processed product and furnishes a health benefit, it lacks the phytochemicals and other nutrients that provide potent antioxidant ingredients.
Tips to include more fiber
Instead of . . . Eat . . .
White bread Whole-wheat bread
Chips Fruit or veggies
Croutons Nuts or seeds
Fruit flavored yogurt Add fruit to plain yogurt
Ranch or other salad dressing Hummus
Low fiber cereal Oatmeal or oat bran
Wheat pasta Bean or whole wheat pasta
Sausage and biscuit Half avocado with one tortilla
Rice in soup Beans or barley
Mayo on a sandwich Avocado as the spread
The amount of fiber in plant foods
On average, fruits and veggies furnish about 2-3 grams of fiber in a serving. Beans, peas, and lentils offer 7-8 grams a serving. Whole grains, nuts, and seeds contribute 2-4 plus grams for each serving.
These numbers are small but add up over a day.
Reading a food label on processed foods
As with other ingredients, check out the serving size on a food label first. Then scroll down to Dietary Fiber. Included in this amount are the naturally occurring dietary fiber and added functional fibers. You will find processed foods that contain fiber that isn’t naturally occurring. An example could be yogurt or a snack bar.
Know this before you increase your fiber intake
When increasing fiber, add it to your eating pattern slowly, eat small amounts and boost your water intake to help with tolerance and passage through your gut.
Choose plant foods including veggies, fruits (remember avocadoes), nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, and whole grains to get the full benefit.