Fiber in Your Diet

Feel fresh, feel full, and feel great with fiber.
by Amy Vergin

Fiber isn’t around like it used to be. Fruits and vegetables used to be staples in the American diet. Now, processed foods have taken over every meal, from preservative-laden canned foods and microwavable items to orange puffs covered in powdered cheese. Instead of low sugar and high fiber, the situation has been reversed. And it’s wreaking havoc on your body.

Fiber Facts

Simply put, fiber “does it all” even though it may not seem like it. Fiber is a nutrient that the body won’t digest or absorb; it’s like pouring a substance down a steel tube. The liquid runs right through, but it takes with it some of the buildup that has gathered on the inside. Sufficient content of this plant-based nutrient in your daily diet helps prevent heart disease, relieve constipation, reduce risk for diabetes, reduce blood-cholesterol levels, control blood-sugar levels, and aid in weight loss. It seems the more fiber is researched, the more important it becomes.

There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is known for quickly dissolving in water to form a gel-like substance. This is the type of fiber that prevents cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestines, which also keeps your blood-sugar levels low, in the long run. People with diabetes are advised to ingest this type of fiber more often for this reason. Foods like beans, apples, bananas, and oats help raise the amount of soluble fiber in your diet. Not only are these foods good for you, but they’re the types of food that many people enjoy eating on a regular basis.

Insoluble fiber, while different from its equivalent, plays a crucial role in other ways. Because it does not dissolve in water, it will improve the movement of material through the entire digestive system, which leads to increased stool bulk. This particularly benefits people who struggle with constipation or stool irregularities. Insoluble fiber also helps keep the body feeling full for a longer amount of time, which reduces the risk of obesity. If you feel full, your body will simply not let you overeat! Whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, and vegetables all contain significant levels of insoluble fiber.

In the end, it’s important to remember that all dietary fiber is good for you. In certain situations it is helpful to augment your intake of either soluble or insoluble fiber, but as long as your body is getting sufficient fiber, you will be healthier overall.

Not sure how much fiber to include in your diet? Men who are younger than 51 should get about 38 grams of fiber each day. Men older than 51 will only need about 30 grams. Women under 51 should get 25 grams, but the recommended intake drops to 21 grams once over the age of 51. A rule of thumb for children is to add 10 grams to the child’s age. A 10-year-old would need to consume roughly 20 grams per day.

Fiber In Your Body

The path fiber takes through the body is an interesting one. The journey starts in the stomach where fiber starts as bulky matter. That matter is what makes your stomach feel full while consuming less of the energy dense foods such as fat, protein, or carbohydrates. Soluble fiber slows the stomach from emptying while insoluble fiber needs fat or protein to keep it in the stomach. Over time, it moves to the small intestine.

The same process that happened in the stomach now plays out in the small intestine. Time spent on this leg of the journey depends upon the type of food being digested.

Finally heading into the colon, an organ that harbors vital bacteria that help us break down the food consumed, keep our immune system in check, and absorb minerals into the bloodstream. Once reaching this point insoluble fiber takes action, aiding the flow of material through the colon, keeping it healthy and clean while possibly reducing the risk of colon cancer. Absorbing moisture from your system, soluble fiber turns into that “gel” substance mentioned earlier, keeping the walls of the colon running smoothly and getting rid of the wastes that accumulate there.

High Fiber Foods

When people think of fiber, they most commonly think of beans. Of course these are an excellent source of fiber, but there is a wide variety of food choices to help fill your fiber requirements without overdosing on beans. Here is a list of everyday grocery options that provide the most fiber:

• 1 cup split peas, 16.3 grams

• 1 cup lentils, 15.6 grams

• 1 cup cooked black beans, 15 grams

• 1 medium artichoke 10.3, grams

• 1 medium avocado 11.8, grams

• 1 cup cooked peas 8.8, grams

Fruits also have a considerable amount of fiber. From pears with 5.5 grams to red raspberries containing 8 grams, eating a variety helps keep you from getting bored and still provides enough to keep your system happy.

An easy way to keep things fresh is to “fiber” up your everyday foods with ideas like these:

Breakfast: Enjoy pancakes like you would on any other day, except top them with fruit or use whole grain or buckwheat instead of refined white flour. Even one ounce of almonds added to your cereal provides at least 3.5 grams of fiber! Oatmeal is also a fast and easy way to reach your daily goal.

Dinner: It’s easy to transform your lunch or dinner into a fiber-packed meal, simply add beans, peas, or lentils to the main dish. Always have a side of fruits or vegetables to accompany your meal. If Mexican-style food sounds appetizing, use whole-wheat tortillas instead of the regular white flour. Whole-grain pasta or brown rice also contain more fiber than their counterparts.

It is important to find ways to make fiber work in your daily diet in order to keep your digestive system running smoothly. Otherwise constipation, intestinal blockage, stroke, or even colon cancer can occur. Keep in mind that too much fiber too quickly is also bad for the body. It is best to do over a period time so your body can adjust to the change. If large quantities are added too quickly, there is a chance that stomachaches, bloating, gas, or diarrhea may occur.

Still having a hard time? Here are a few recipes with plenty of good old-fashioned fiber.

 

Poached Pears

Fiber content: 5 grams per serving (1 pear)

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup apple juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 whole pears

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons orange zest

In small bowl, combine juices, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix evenly. Peel pears and leave stems. Remove core from bottom of pear and place in shallow pan. Add juice mixture to pan and set over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, turning pears frequently. Do not boil. Transfer pears to individual serving plates. Garnish with raspberries and orange zest. Serve immediately.

 

White Chili

Fiber content: 29.8 grams per  serving

2 (48-ounce) cans Great Northern white beans

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

3 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chilies

2 cups diced cooked chicken

1 (32-ounce) can chicken broth

1 (1.25-ounce) package taco seasoning

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon ground marjoram

2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine the beans, crushed tomatoes, green chilies, cooked chicken, chicken broth, taco seasoning, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, ground Mexican oregano, ground marjoram, and minced garlic in slow cooker. Cook on low until flavors are blended, about eight hours. Serve.

 

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers

Fiber content: 9 grams per serving

4 large Portobello mushroom caps, 5 inches in diameter

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 whole wheat buns, toasted

4 slices tomato

4 slices red onion

2 bibb lettuce leaves, halved

Clean mushrooms with damp cloth and remove stems. Place in glass dish, stem side up. In small bowl, whisk together vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper, and olive oil. Drizzle marinade over mushrooms. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for one hour, turning mushrooms once. Prepare charcoal grill or gas grill or boiler. Coat grill rack or broiler pan lightly with cooking spray and away from heat source. Position rack four to six inches from heat. Grill or boil mushrooms in medium heat, turning often, until tender on each side. Baste with marinade to keep from drying out. Transfer mushrooms to plate with tongs. Place each mushroom on bun and top with one tomato slice, one onion slice, and 1/2 lettuce leaf. Serve immediately.