Fiber. You know it’s good for you.
But if you’re like many Americans, you don’t get enough. Healthy adults should consume between 20 and 35 grams of dietary fiber each day. Most American men and women eat about 11 grams of dietary fiber daily.
Just what is dietary fiber? It is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods and is made up of many sugar molecules linked together. But unlike other carbohydrates (such as starch), dietary fiber is bound together in such a way that it cannot be readily digested in the small intestine.
Soluble and insoluble fibers make up the two basic categories of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber is found in a variety of foods including wheat bran, whole grain products, fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibers increase stool bulk and help to regulate bowel movements.
Soluble fibers become gummy in water. This type of fiber actually slows the passage of food through the digestive system. Researchers believe this action helps to regulate cholesterol and glucose (sugar) levels in the blood by affecting absorption rates. Food sources of soluble fibers are dried beans, oats, barley and some fruits and vegetables.
Do you need a fiber boost? Here are a few tips:
Read food labels. The labels of almost all foods will tell you the number of dietary fiber grams in each serving.
Start the day with a whole-grain cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Top with nuts, raisins, bananas or berries, all of which are good sources of fiber.
Avoid peeling fruits and vegetables. Eating the skin ensures that you get every bit of fiber. But rinse with water to remove surface dirt and bacteria before eating.
Eat more whole grain foods such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, whole grain corn, whole grain sorghum, whole oats, whole rye and whole wheat.
Don’t forget legumes. Try split peas, different kinds of beans (pinto, kidney, lima, navy, and garbanzo), and lentils.
Snack on fruit, nuts and seeds. Choose fruit (fresh, frozen, dried or canned in 100% fruit juice) as snacks, salads or desserts. Keep some almonds, sunflower seeds, and pistachios handy.
If you plan to boost your fiber intake, do so gradually! Give the bacteria in your stomach and intestines time to adjust. If you add more fiber too quickly– or consume too much on a regular basis – you may end up with gas, diarrhea, cramps and bloating.
Also remember to drink plenty of water and other fluids. You need enough fluids for fiber to do its job.
Chili Bean Dip
- 2 cups cooked dried beans or 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
In a medium bowl, mash beans. Add chili powder, onion, and cheese. Mix well.
Serve warm with tortilla chips or serve cold with raw vegetables.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 6 g fat, 410 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber.