When it comes to our daily diet, we tend to focus on what we should limit---calories,
trans fats, sugars--but we should also remember what we need to consume
more of for good health: fiber.
"Dietary fiber is important for our health, and yet studies show that
most people fall short of getting the recommended amount of fiber in their
daily diet, which is at least 25 to 38 grams for people 50 and younger,
and 21 to 30 grams for people 51 and older," says Arielle Bivas,
AGNP, the nurse practitioner at at
St. Joseph Hoag Health's newest
Wellness Corner clinic at Newport Center in Newport Beach, California.
"There are two types of fiber--soluble, which dissolves in water to
form a gel-like substance, and insoluble, which moves through the digestive
system relatively intact,” Bivas says. “Most plant-based foods
you eat contain both types of fiber, though in different proportions—for
example soft pear flesh contains soluble fiber and the tougher peel contains
insoluble fiber. Good sources of soluble fiber are foods such as beans,
fruit, oats, peas and carrots. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like
wheat bran, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains."
Why is it important to have fiber in our diets? Here are some of the main
It guards against lung disease. A recent study found people with more fiber in their diets had better lung
function, which can prevent lung disease. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory
properties of fiber.
The digestive system runs more smoothly. Eating enough fiber can soften and add bulk to stool, making it easier
to pass and preventing constipation. Fiber may also prevent hemorrhoids
and diverticulitis. Some fiber also feeds the “good” gut bacteria
that help keep our digestive tract healthy.
It helps promote heart health. Studies say soluble fiber may be helpful in lowering cholesterol, especially
LDL levels. Fiber can also help reduce blood pressure and guard against
inflammation, which is thought to be a contributor to heart attacks and strokes.
It controls blood sugar levels. Fiber, especially the soluble kind, helps keep blood glucose in check by
slowing down the absorption of sugar. This can be helpful for people with
diabetes who need to monitor their blood sugar, or for people at risk
of developing diabetes.
Fiber can help maintain a healthy weight. More fiber can mean less pounds when it comes to the scale. That's
because fiber-rich foods can leave you feeling fuller for a longer period
of time. Many fiber-rich foods are also low in calories.
"When it comes to getting more fiber in our diets, eating whole foods
high in fiber is the ideal, as processed foods tend to lose some of their
fiber in the manufacturing process--think of apples being turned into
apple juice, for instance," Bivas says. "Some easy ways to increase
fiber are switching to 100% whole-grain products, adding beans to your
favorite dishes, or snacking on sliced fruits, veggies, nuts or popcorn.
Although food-based sources are best, some foods have added fiber and
there are fiber supplements, if you need help getting more in your diet. "
Bivas recommends building up your fiber intake gradually, especially if
you experience bloating, gas or stomach cramping. "You should also
drink enough water to keep all the fiber moving through your body. If
you have any concerns, talk with your doctor about how to integrate fiber
into a well-balanced diet."