Whenever I read somewhere that I need to get more #fiber, I immediately think of fiber optic telephone lines, while my next thought swings to the fiber in clothing — and the last thing I ever think of is fiber in food. Not only that, but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to eat fiber — and what exactly is it anyway?
Basically, fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods, and get this — it has NO calories. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, but most foods contain a combination of both.
Soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, dissolves in water to create a gel-like substance that attaches to fats and ushers them out of the body. This has been found to help lower serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also helps control blood sugar levels by minimizing spikes in blood sugar.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve during digestion and helps keep our bodies “regular” by retaining water and helping to move waste through the intestinal tract. Research has shown it may also be useful in preventing medical problems such as constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and colon cancer.
Yet one of the most surprising benefits is that both types of fiber can help you #lose weight — but not because they burn calories or fat. Fiber-rich foods help people lose weight in two ways. First, fiber provides bulk, which makes you feel full. Additionally, fiber slows digestion, which makes you feel satisfied longer.
In fact, a recent UC Davis study published in the American Journal of Clinical #Nutrition shows that foods high in fiber helped women feel more full using a biochemical mechanism similar to the one triggered by eating fat (but without ANY calories). Barbara Schneeman, the UC Davis nutrition professor who led the study, explains how this works: “…the addition of fiber to a meal can increase a person’s feeling of being full. It appears this is due not only to fiber creating a greater volume of food in the gastrointestinal tract, but also because it promotes the release of cholecystokinin.” The hormone cholecystokinin, which is also released in response to fat intake, tells the brain that the body is satiated.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, despite all of these benefits, the average American consumes less than half of the recommended daily fiber intake of 25 &ndash 30 grams. Anything that comes from plants — including veggies, #fruits, whole #grains and beans — is a great source of fiber. Here are some ways of increasing fiber in your diet:
FRUITS AND #VEGETABLES
- Add vegetables to casseroles, soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta and rice dishes. For example, simply add a cup of broccoli to a pasta dish for an extra 2 grams of fiber.
- For the greatest benefit, don’t peel fruits and vegetables — eating the skin and membranes ensures that you get every bit of fiber. A baked potato with the skin has twice the fiber of a potato without the skin.
- Try to eat raw vegetables whenever possible — cooking them may reduce fiber content by breaking fiber down into its carbohydrate components. To avoid this effect, cook, microwave, or steam vegetables only until they are al dente — tender, but still firm to the bite.
- Keep in mind that whole fruits and vegetables contain more fiber than juice, which lacks the skin and membranes — and can also contain added sugar.
- Add legumes (lentils, beans, peas) to all sorts of dishes including soups, stews and salads.
- Have sandwiches on “whole-grain” bagels, breads and pitas. Whole wheat, rye and pumpernickel breads can have up to twice the amount of fiber as white bread. Just don’t be fooled by terms like “wheat bread,” “multigrain,” or “with whole grain” which might have a small percentage of whole grains — as a guideline, aim for 2g of fiber per slice.
- Add bran or wheat germ to casseroles, meatloaf and cooked cereal. Each tablespoon of bran adds more than 1 gram of fiber and can barely be detected when blended with some cereal or a casserole.
- Use brown or wild rice in place of white rice, and whole-wheat pasta instead of refined. If switching to brown rice is too drastic for you, try mixing brown and white together.
- If your favorite recipe calls for 1 cup of white flour, use a 1/2 cup of whole-grain flour and a 1/2 cup of white flour instead. (If you use all whole-grain flour, it may be too dense.)
- Experiment with unfamiliar whole grains — try cooking with barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, rye berries and/or wheat berries.
When in doubt, read the label. The food label can state that a product is “a good source” of fiber if it contributes 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV), or 2.5 grams of fiber per serving. The package can claim “high in,” “rich in” or “excellent source of” fiber if the product provides 20 percent of the DV, or 5 grams per serving.
Now if you’re like most Americans, you’ll need to take it easy at first. If you don’t regularly eat the recommended 25 – 30g of fiber per day, make sure to increase your fiber consumption gradually. If you don’t feel like counting, that basically means you should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables and seven servings of whole grains and beans per day. Keep in mind that too much of a good thing can be bad — if you eat 60 grams (or more) of fiber a day, you’ll experience unwanted side effects, such as increased gas. Remember, it’s all about balance.