Dietary fiber, also known as roughage, is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by the body. Therefore, fiber is passed through the digestive tract relatively intact. It is classified into two forms: soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which does not dissolve. Both types of fiber provide important health benefits.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance when dissolved in water. Because of its viscosity, soluble fiber helps delay gastric emptying resulting in an extended feeling of fullness. It can also help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Additionally, it helps to retain water in stool and prevent bowel movements from becoming hard and difficult to pass. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, chia and flax seeds, barley, apples and prunes.
Insoluble fiber helps to promote the movement of material through your digestive systems and increases stool bulk. This type of fiber can be important for preventing constipation and keeping stools regular. Sources of soluble fiber include whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, beans and potatoes.
Diets high in fiber may help prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Because fiber helps to promote fullness, it may aid in weight management. Additionally, foods high in fiber are often times low in added sugar and fat and supply other important nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support health.
The best sources of fiber are minimally processed, plant-based foods like grain, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts. The amount of soluble and insoluble fiber varies in different foods so it is best to eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods to meet your needs. The recommended amount of fiber for those age 50 and younger is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. In those age 51 or older, fiber needs are slightly lower at 21 grams per day for women and 30 grams per day for men.
Tips for fitting in more fiber:
- Start your day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal like bran flakes or oatmeal. Look for cereals that supply 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.
- Swap out “white” or “refined” grains for “whole” grains. Look for bread products that list whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. Other whole grains include brown or wild rice, popcorn, quinoa, barley, and whole wheat pasta.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen and low-sodium canned are all good choices.
- Include beans and legumes with meals. Add to soups and salads or use as a meat alternative in dishes like tacos or nachos.
- Sprinkle on seeds and nuts. Add to cereal, yogurt and salads for a crunchy topping.
While it’s best to get fiber from food, fiber supplements- like Metamucil or Benefiber- can contribute to the recommended daily intake. It is recommended to talk with your doctor before starting any supplements.
Increase fiber intake gradually over the course of a few weeks because adding too much too quickly can lead to intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramps. Also be sure you are drinking plenty of fluids. Try one of the fiber-rich recipes below to help you meet your daily quota on fiber.
Summer Fruit Gratin
Mayo Clinic, serves 6
For the filling:
- 1 pound cherries, pitted and halved
- 4 cups peeled, pitted and sliced mixed stone fruits, such as nectarines, peaches and apricots
- 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
For the topping:
- ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- ¼ cup sliced (flaked) almonds
- 3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
Directions: Heat the oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the cherries and stone fruits. Sprinkle with the flour and sugar and toss gently to mix. To make the topping, in another bowl, combine the oats, almonds, flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Whisk to blend. Stir in the oil and honey and mix until well-blended. Spread the fruit mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the oat-almond mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is lightly browned, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving ( ¾ cup): 235 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 56 mg sodium, 4 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber
Artichoke, Spinach and White Bean Dip
Mayo Clinic, serves 8
- 2 cups artichoke hearts
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 4 cups chopped spinach
- 1 teaspoon minced dried thyme
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1 cup cooked white beans, mashed until smooth
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup reduced-fat sour cream
Directions: Heat oven to 350° degrees. Mix all ingredients together. Put in a glass or ceramic dish and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with vegetables or whole-grain bread or crackers.
Per serving ( ½ cup): 123 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 114 mg sodium, 8 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber
Jamie Pronschinske, RDN, CD, is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.
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