Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is found in the plant foods that we eat. It moves through our body without being digested, providing the bulk that we need to prevent constipation and contributing to overall good colon health. Studies have shown that diets rich in fiber help to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, since fiber helps to decrease the rise in blood sugar after meals and slows the absorption of sugar.
High fiber intake also has been linked to decreasing blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol levels, which can help to prevent heart disease. Fiber may even prevent the risk of developing cancer by aiding in removing harmful carcinogens from the body. Lastly, eating fiber helps us to feel fuller longer and consume fewer calories, having a direct effect on body weight.
Fiber can be found in whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. When purchasing bread, rice and pasta, choose whole-grain or whole-wheat products rather than those made with enriched or refined ingredients. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day. Those with the skin on provide more fiber than those without. Snack on nuts when you are feeling hungry. A handful of pistachios or almonds provide about two grams of fiber. Find recipes that incorporate legumes into your menu each week. Legumes include foods such as beans, peas and lentils.
You also can look for foods that are high in fiber while grocery shopping. For a food to be considered high in fiber, it needs to have five grams of fiber or more per serving. To find the fiber content of an item, look at the nutrition label on the package and locate the total carbohydrates. Listed directly underneath that is where you will find the fiber content. Keep in mind that the number listed is for one serving of that particular product. So, you will need to look at the serving size listed at the top of the nutrition label to determine how much of that food that you need to eat to get the listed amount of fiber.
Also while shopping, choose whole foods - those found in their natural state - over prepackaged, processed foods. Whole foods will typically be higher in fiber and are generally healthier choices.
Women are recommended to get 20-25 grams of fiber per day, and men should get 30-35 grams per day. If you are age 50 or below, aim for the higher amount. If you are age 51 or above, aim for the lower amount. However, considering that most Americans only get about half of the recommended daily amount, don’t worry so much about counting grams, but rather focus on increasing the amount of fiber that you eat each day. Also, remember that increasing your fiber intake gradually and drinking plenty of water when you do prevents abdominal bloating and gas that can occur with increased fiber intake.
Barbie Haas is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.