THE IMPORTANCE OF FIBER

Written by: Elsie Velazquez cert. personal trainer at Prescription Fitness (Cleveland, Ohio)

You probably already know that fiber is important to good health, but do you know why and if you are getting enough?   Chances are that even if you know why you need it, you may not be consuming enough of it.  Women need about 25 grams per day and men need about 38 grams according to the Institute of Medicine.

Dietary fiber is mainly known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation.  The health benefits don’t stop there.  Consuming fiber can also help with the following:

  • Normalizes bowel movements
  • Helps maintain bowel health
  • Lowers cholesterol levels
  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Helps you in achieving/maintaining healthy weight

The most recommended way of increasing the fiber in your diet is to add more plant foods — vegetables, beans, fruit, whole grains, and nuts. It is important to know that fiber falls into two categories:  soluble and insoluble.  Each works differently in your body and each gives a different health perk.  One thing to remember is that soluble dissolves in water and insoluble does not.  Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol and glucose levels while insoluble fiber promotes a healthy digestive system.  To get the full range of health benefits that fiber can provide, try to incorporate both types into your diet.  Below is a small list of foods that fall under each category:

Soluble Insoluble
Oatmeal, oat bran,  peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, psyllium, lentils, apples, pears,  and blueberries Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, zucchini, celery, green beans, brown rice, and bulgur

 

It is recommended that you consume fiber from whole foods rather than from supplements.  The reason is that supplements (i.e. Metamucil, FiberCon, etc.) do not provide the variety of fiber and other nutrients that whole foods do.  Supplements can be used safely (check with doctor if concerned) if you feel you still need to increase your fiber intake or you have a medical condition that requires it but whole foods is generally the way to go.

Here are a few ideas on how to increase fiber in your meals and snacks:

  • Consume fruits such as oranges, apples, mangoes, strawberries and raspberries, blackberries, and prunes
  • Consume vegetables such as carrots, beets, broccoli, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach and artichokes, asparagus, and sweet potatoes. Generally, the darker the color, the higher the fiber
  • Add beans and legumes to your salads and soups
  • Choose grains carefully. Bulgur wheat, brown rice, wild rice, and barley are better than white rice
  • Snack on almonds, pistachios, or pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Just watch your intake of nuts as they are high in calories

If you are not already following a high-fiber diet, I suggest adding fiber in slowly to give your digestive system time to adjust. It is generally safe to add about 5 grams of fiber per day until you reach your required amount.  If you have any questions, you can always ask one of the personal trainers at Prescription Fitness at info@prescription-fitness.com.  They are always willing to help!