What comes to mind when you think of fiber? For some of you, it may be an aging population stocking their shelves with Metamucil; others may think that whole grains and cereal are the main sources of fiber; while many may admit that fiber is nature’s version of a human Drano.
Whatever your interpretation, one thing is certain: the health benefits are plentiful! And, it’s not just the over 60 crowd that notices the difference it makes in their lives, people from all walks of life are starting to recognize its dietary importance.
So, What Is Fiber Exactly?
Fiber is the indigestible product that passes through us when we eat food. Simply put, it’s the “leftovers” that our bodies don’t absorb. Fiber is found in plant based foods, so try to think of fiber as the “rough stuff” in the fruits, veggies, whole wheat, and legumes you’re eating.
Soluble vs. Insoluble
Soluble fiber is fiber that can be dissolved in liquid (in the case of our bodies, that liquid is water).
When soluble fiber dissolves, it forms a gel-like substance, which makes food go through your body at a slower pace. This is fantastic for those who are trying to manage their weight, because it acts as an appetite suppressant, which in turn helps to manage caloric intake.
Slower digestion also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, so this type of fiber is beneficial for the management and prevention of Diabetes.
Soluble fiber has also been said to lower bad cholesterol because it affects the absorption of lipids. Some studies suggest it lowers these factors because a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes tends to be a healthier diet in general (read: a diet lower in animal proteins and processed foods).
Insoluble fibers pass through the body pretty much unchanged, so they have a laxative effect on the digestive system. Because insoluble fibers are bulky, they help move waste quicker through the GI tract. They’re the street sweepers of Intestine Avenue! That is why they’re an excellent answer to constipation troubles. Some studies even suggest that a daily intake of insoluble fiber decreases the risk of colorectal cancer (source Mayo Clinic).
In my humble opinion, insoluble fibers refute the need for a detox program. Your body IS a detox program…provided you add the right things to it. Veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains help flush toxins out of the body, help prevent disease, and taste yummy.
How Much Fiber Should I Add to My Diet?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that people aged 50 years and younger should take in roughly 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily (that is for women and men, respectively). Due to the natural decrease in food consumption as we age, people 51 years and older are to take in 21 to 30 grams of fiber daily.
A cup of fruit or vegetables will, on average, produce 3 to 8 grams of fiber. As a general rule of thumb, produce that is harder to chew will have more fiber. For example, blackberries (which have seeds), and artichokes (which tend to be a little “reedy”), are higher up on the fiber list than a banana, which is easier to chew. A medium avocado comes in at just under 12 grams of fiber!
Legumes, seeds, and beans are an extremely good source of fiber. Flaxseed, black beans, peas – anything with a hull – are packed with as much as 17 grams per cup. Whole grains are also a good source. Popcorn, whole wheat pasta and bread, bran, and barley range from roughly 4 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.
Basically, if it has actual fibers, skin, a hull, or seeds – it has fiber. So remember that the next time you want to peel the skin off your apples, pears, or potatoes!
Challenge: Start leaving the skin on produce you normally wouldn’t. It might take some getting used to, but I actually started eating kiwi with the skin on. It’s not too shabby, and it cuts prep time down dramatically!
What are your favorite sources of fiber?
Photo credit: feministjulie