We’ve all been told that we need to increase the amount of fiber in our diets. The typical American diet has somewhere between 5-14 grams of fiber per day. In 2002, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences Research Council for the first time issued Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for fiber. For males between the ages of 19-50 it is 38 grams of fiber per day. For women in the same age category it is 25 grams of fiber per day. If you are over 50 years old, then the amount of fiber decreases to 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. At best the typical American is only getting 50% of the needed fiber in their diet. Now, you might be thinking why would a bunch of scientists want to spend their time and your tax dollars worrying about how much we poop? The simple answer is your health.
4 Profound Health Benefits Related to Proper Fiber Intake!
Proper fiber intake may reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity in addition to being beneficial for treating or preventing constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis.
- Heart Disease. One of the ways the body eliminates cholesterol is through the excretion of bile acids. Water-soluble fiber such as pectin and fiber found in rolled oats helps to bind these bile acids. By increasing your fiber intake you not only increase the amount of fiber available to bind these bile acids but also increase the speed at which they pass through your system. Since there is a direct correlation between low blood cholesterol and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, increased fiber intake is a first natural step in helping to control and/or lower your blood cholesterol.
- Diabetes. Meat, chicken, fish and dairy products do not contain fiber. Dietary fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. This is also your main source for sugars which are carbohydrates. The more refined the carbohydrate the lower the fiber content and the higher the sugar effect. Choosing high fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains will slow down the absorption of sugar from the small intestines into the blood stream to help keep your blood sugar at a normal level. Insulin is used by the body to help regulate blood sugar level. If you can regulate your blood sugar at the entry level then your pancreas doesn’t have to work as hard to produce insulin.
- Cancer. Your liver is your detoxification center and it uses bile to help remove these toxins from your system. As we have already discussed, water-soluble fiber helps to bind these bile acids for proper elimination from your system. Lack of fiber allows these toxins to sit in your colon longer as well as provides a window for them to be absorbed back into your system. This increases your risk for colon cancer.
- Obesity. Fiber, by itself, has no calories. Combining water, with a diet high in fiber, helps to fill you up faster so that you eat less and potentially lose weight or at least prevent weight gain. In a Northwestern and Harvard University study of more than 74,000 female nurses, those who added the most fruits and vegetables to their diet lowered their risk for weight gain by 28 percent.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. It is that portion of the plant that is not digested by the enzymes in your intestinal tract. This insoluble fiber binds water to make your stools softer and bulkier. Typically, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables contain just as much fiber as raw ones. However, some types of refining processes may reduce the fiber content. Current food labeling requires the amount of dietary fiber to be listed. It will be listed just below the “Total Carbohydrate” portion of the Nutrition Facts section of the product label. For a manufacturer to make fiber claims it must meet the following guidelines:
- High Fiber: 5 grams or more per serving
- Good Source of Fiber: 2.5 – 4.9 grams per serving
- More or Added Fiber: At least 2.5 grams more per serving than the reference food
3 Simple and Effective Steps to Increasing Your Fiber Intake!
When most people hear the concept of increasing their fiber intake they immediately think about eating multigrain breads and a lot of lettuce. This is not what their culinary taste buds are going to get excited about. Plus, it is not the most effective way to increase your fiber intake. The following 3 steps are designed to be realistic so that everyone can achieve the goal of increased fiber intake and be able to do it long term.
Step 1 – Examine Your Diet. You like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and maybe a vegetable. By making some simple changes you could drastically increase your fiber intake while still enjoying your same meals.
- Bread: 1 slice of white bread has .6 grams of fiber where as 1 slice of whole-wheat bread has 1.9 grams of fiber. Figuring two slices of bread for your sandwich, you just increased your fiber intake from 1.2 grams to 3.8 grams.
- Cereal: Maybe you’re a Wheaties type of person which has 2 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving. By switching to 100% All Bran you just increased you fiber intake to 17.6 grams of fiber. Too much fiber and not enough taste than try Raisin Bran at 5 grams per 1 cup serving.
- Pasta: 1 cup of uncooked pasta typically has 2 grams of fiber. Switching to 1 cup of Barilla PLUS pasta and your fiber intake increased to 7 grams of fiber. Add a ½ cup of tomato sauce on top and you added another 3 grams of fiber. What would have been a “5 grams of fiber” meal has now become “10 grams of fiber” with no loss in taste.
- Rice: 1 cup of cooked white rice is 2 grams of fiber. Switching to 1 cup of cooked brown rice and you’re at 5 grams of fiber.
- Vegetable: Some people think they need to add broccoli or cauliflower to their meal to increase their fiber and it turns them off. Broccoli has 2.3 grams of fiber and cauliflower has 2.5 grams of fiber per cup. Switching to 1 cup of corn gives you 3.9 grams of fiber, 1 cup of green beans is 4.0 grams of fiber, and 1 cup of peas is 6.8 grams of fiber. So, instead of having a salad which has 1 cup of iceberg lettuce at .7 grams of fiber you could skip the salad and add a vegetable that gives you 8 times the value in fiber.
Step 2- Add Fiber. There are a couple of simple ways to add fiber to your daily intake of food without adding loads of calories.
- Breakfast: A medium banana added to the top of your cereal is 3 grams of fiber. A cup of strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries would range from 3.3 to 4.5 grams of fiber.
- Snack: Instead of going to the vending machine for a candy bar or bag of chips why not eat a medium pear at 88 calories and 5 grams of fiber or a large apple at 90 calories and 4.5 grams of fiber.
- Meal: Maybe it’s time to try some new additions to your meal like 1 cup of lentils or black beans at 15 grams of fiber, baked beans at 10.4 grams of fiber, 1 medium baked potato with the skin at 4.4 grams of fiber, or a sweet potato without the skin at 7.5 grams of fiber.
Incorporating some of the changes and additions we’ve looked at so far you could see the following improvements in your overall fiber intake:
- A breakfast of cereal and toast could go from 1 to 3 grams of fiber to 9 to 21 grams of fiber.
- A mid-morning snack could go from 1 gram of fiber to 4 to 5 grams of fiber.
- A sandwich at lunch could go from 1 to 3 grams of fiber to 4 to 15 grams of fiber.
- A mid-afternoon snack could go from 1 gram of fiber to 4 to 5 grams of fiber.
- A dinner meal could go from 5 to 7 grams of fiber to 9 to 15 grams of fiber.
Just by making some simple changes in your food selection you could go from 9-15 grams of fiber to 30-61 grams of fiber.
Step 3 – Take a Supplement. There is some controversy in this area regarding the use of fiber supplements so I add this step with caution. But, if you are not willing to make the simple changes we have discussed in Steps 1 & 2, then talk with a qualified physician who can give you some guidance in this area. Typically, one tablespoon of an over-the-counter fiber supplement has 15 grams of fiber. Most people take their supplement at night after their evening meal. Supplements are not meant to be used as a laxative which is where most of the controversy occurs. They are only meant to be used as a supplement for those who are not getting the proper amount of dietary fiber from their diet.
Two Important Notes!
Proper water intake is fundamental to this whole process of fiber intake. On the one hand, fiber can be extremely useful in preventing constipation. But, fiber taken in the absence of adequate water intake can also be binding to cause severe constipation. As I’ve repeatedly said in several of my articles, proper water intake is the number one key to improving your overall health and wellness. Bringing in the proper amount of fiber with the proper amount of water will be a benefit to helping you achieve a higher level of wellness.
Due to its complexity, laboratory technicians have not yet been able to ascertain the exact fiber content in many foods. Because of this, you may find discrepancies from one fiber source to another. Add to the fact that there are varying sizes of fruits and vegetable as well as growing conditions, and you can begin to understand why there might be some variations in the number of grams of fiber listed for different food items.
If you are not used to eating high fiber foods then make your changes gradually to allow your body to adjust. Anyone with a chronic disease should always consult their physician first before they alter their diet. With guidance and using some simple steps to incorporate more fiber into your diet, you can get Randy from American Idol to say, “It’s the Bomb, Baby!”
Dan Hammer has a background in biology, chemistry and exercise physiology. He used to run one of the largest health club operations in the Chicagoland area and has been helping people with their wellness issues for more than 25 years. His website http://www.AgingNoMore.com provides current information on how to slow down the aging process.