By Natalie Bennett, Clinical Dietitian, Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and provides benefits such as helping maintain a healthy weight, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease. However, most Americans don’t get enough.
Let’s take a look at the two types of dietary fiber.
Insoluble fiber helps increase the movement of food through the digestive system and increases stool bulk. Examples include whole-grain cereals, bread, nuts and seeds, wheat bran, many vegetables.
Soluble fiber helps restore regularity and soften stools and can lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Examples include oats, barley, peas, citrus, fruits, beans, and apples (pectin).
The amount of each type of fiber varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefits, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends 38 grams of fiber for men age 50 or younger and 30 grams for men age 51 or older. The institute recommends 25 grams for women age 50 or younger and 21 grams for women 51 or older.
Tips for Adding Fiber to Your Diet
- Start the day off with high-fiber breakfast cereal with bran or fiber in the name (minimum of 5g fiber per serving) or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to a favorite cereal.
- Choose high-fiber grains (brown rice, whole-grain bread, crackers, cereals, and pasta), and limit foods with refined white flour.
- Incorporate a variety of grains including rye, barley, oats, farro, Kamut, and quinoa.
- Consume more dried beans, peas, and lentils. Add these to soups, salads, and casseroles.
- Consume more fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices.
- Try adding more nuts and seeds or products containing them.
Although getting enough fiber in your diet is good for your health, adding too much too quickly can cause some discomfort. Start by adding small amounts of fiber daily and then slowly increase the amount to prevent gas, cramping, bloating, or diarrhea. As you do add more fiber, be sure to also drink more water.
Some people don’t tolerate or can’t eat enough high-fiber foods, so make sure to have approval from your doctor before changing to a high-fiber diet.