Saniyah Khan, Nutritional Sciences Student, Rutgers University
Shailja Mathur M.S., M. Ed., RDN, FCHS Senior Program Coordinator, Middlesex County
Americans have long neglected the importance of dietary fiber. Although dietary fiber is most known for regulating bowel movements, it also plays a large role in chronic disease prevention and treatment. Opting for high fiber foods is highly recommended by the USDA Dietary Guidelines in order to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
What is Fiber?
Fiber consists of the plant cell wall components polysaccharides and lignin, and is a form of carbohydrate that is not easily digested by the human gut. Instead, as it passes through the intestines, it softens stool and slows digestion by adding bulk. There are two forms of fiber that exist; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, found in foods like oatmeal or beans, absorbs water while insoluble fiber, found in whole grain breads or plant skins, does not. Both forms can be found in most foods, but in slightly different concentrations.
What are high fiber foods?
Plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are natural sources of fiber. In fact, eating the skin or peel of a fruit or vegetable offers a greater dose of fiber compared to the actual food itself. Fiber is also naturally high in whole grain products, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
A commercial food product can be labeled as “High Fiber” if it contains at least 5 g of fiber per serving. The general rule of thumb is that the more refined or processed a food becomes, the lower the fiber content will be. For example, one medium apple with the peel contains 4.4 grams of fiber while ½ cup applesauce contains only 1.4 grams, compared to a 4-ounce apple juice which contains none. Hence, the best way to incorporate fiber into the diet is opting for nutritious, whole foods.
What are the health benefits?
Evidence based research has shown that a high fiber diet has various health benefits including, but not limited to: aiding diabetes management, cardiovascular disease, and treating gastrointestinal issues like diverticulosis. Because fiber provides feelings of fullness after meals and is lower in calories, it also helps with weight management and fighting weight gain. All in all, fiber aids in various medical conditions because it is linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing constipation, and keeping blood sugar in a healthy range.
Latest research also suggests that adhering to a high fiber diet may prevent various forms of cancer such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Although more evidence is needed to associate fiber with cancer prevention, the benefits of fiber on diabetes, heart healthy and gut heath is definitive and strongly recommended by health professionals for all age groups.
What is the recommendation?
Most Americans fall short of meeting the recommended daily amount of fiber. According to the USDA, the daily recommended amount is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, or 21 grams and 30 grams for those over the age of 51, respectively. While children and adolescents may not consume enough calories to reach this amount, they are instead highly encouraged to meet their recommended servings for fruit, vegetable and whole grain foods.
Tips for Increasing Fiber Everyday:
- Opt for whole grain buckwheat flour when making pancakes or other baked products for a fiber rich morning meal
- Add flaxseed or chia seeds to a 100% whole grain cereal
- Introduce other whole grains like quinoa, cracked whole wheat, millets, farro, beans, bulgur and wild rice to breakfast
- Add fresh fruit, or a handful of dried fruit and nuts to your cereal bowl
- Prepare a kale & pear smoothie to boost both vitamin and fiber intake
- Create a whole wheat wrap filled with hummus, avocado and seasonal vegetables such as zucchini, squash, or spinach
- Enrich hot sandwiches with black bean, sweet potato or tomato to add both flavor and fiber to the dish
- Add beans to soups, salads and pasta dishes
- Try new ethnic veggies or fruits in your salad
- Add a handful of nuts and seeds to your salad
- Supplement the main course with a side of lentils or split peas; as legumes are high in fiber
- Soups like cream of broccoli or wild mushroom are great starters high in fiber
- Top the dish with handful of nuts or choose a fruit salad as a side to supplement the main meal
Adhering to a high fiber diet is simple and useful for a number of reasons. However, it is important to note that incorporating more fiber into the diet calls for the need to stay constantly hydrated. In order to keep the digestion processes flowing, consuming a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids a day is just as important as adding more fiber into the diet.
- Larson, Holly. “Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet” Eatright.org. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 6 Oct. 2015. Web.
- “What is Fiber” Eatright.org. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 30 Jan. 2014. Web.
- Zelman, Kathleen MPH RD. “Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: What’s the Difference” WebMD. 23 July 2015. Web.
- Kiefer, David MD. “Can Fiber Protect Against Cancer?” WebMD. 24 July, 2015. Web.