By Ruth Ann Clayton, RD
When you complain about digestion, bowel or other gut issues, you doctor may say, “you need more fiber”. Sounds easy, but implementation may lead to confusion.
Fiber comes from the Latin word fibre that means fiber, thread, string, or filament. Some might use the term “roughage”. Dietary fiber sources are mostly plants composed of complex, nonstarch carbohydrates. Human digestive enzymes can not break down fiber which, surprisingly, actually provides fiber’s benefits.
The two general types of fiber are soluble and insoluble. They are found in all plant foods but not in equal amounts. Each provides specific healthy benefits.
Insoluble fiber will not dissolve in water but can absorb water without changing its form. It is a bulking agent which provides a type of sweeping action and speeding up of the digestive system. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, will dissolve in water and also absorb water in the digestive tract. It then becomes gelatinous and slows food movement through the body.
Both help to reduce the overall risk of disease and promote good health. Both may play a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer. Both can help with hunger satisfaction and weight reduction. Both support a healthy digestive system.
Soluble fiber aids digestion and elimination and eases the symptoms of diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. It absorbs cholesterol containing bile acids in the gut thus lowering cholesterol and may help reduce heart disease. As it slows food movement it helps with blood sugar control. Some of the many food sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, oatmeal, rice bran, beans, legumes, citrus fruits, apples, psyllium and chia seeds.
Insoluble fiber supports regularity by soaking up water, speeding up elimination and providing a “scrubbing” action in the colon resulting in the removal of toxic waste and cancer causing substances. Adding foods like 100% whole grains, flax meal, beets, carrots, root vegetables, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, berries, skins of fruits and vegetables, and cabbage will insure an intake of insoluble fiber.
There are many ways to increase fiber. Sneak in more fresh or frozen vegetable choices each day. Eat the whole thing including the skins. Eat them raw, sauteed or lightly steamed. Add them to casseroles, soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Fruit should be eaten whole, including the peel, except for citrus. Raspberries and black berries are at the top of the fruit fiber list. Berries and fruits are a great addition to whole grain rice dishes, cereals, cottage cheese and yogurt.. Other great choices are apples, pears, oranges, bananas, and dried fruits such as figs, apricots and raisins.
Read labels for true 100% whole grains. Note that “refined” on the label means the bran (and thus the fiber) has been removed from the grains. Eat only whole grain pastas, breads, and crackers. Top whole grain choices are quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, barley, rye, millet, wheat, popcorn, corn, and whole oats. Increase the fiber content of cooked cereals, chili and baked goods by adding oat, rice and wheat bran.
Beans are also a fine source of fiber. Beans and legumes can enhance soups, burritos, chili, salads, and stews. Besides the usual pintos, kidney, navy and limas, check out black beans, lentils, edamame, adzuki, garbanzo and more. Each cup could provide 12-18 grams of fiber.
Go nutty with almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and ground flax seeds and you will increase your fiber. Eat them alone or pair with them cottage cheese, yogurt, smoothies or nut butters.
Check out nutritional labels for total fiber content. Soluble and insoluble fiber will not be shown individually. Consider high fiber to be five (5) grams per serving. Remember it is the total of all foods for the day that adds up. While the typical American lifestyle provides an average of only 15 grams of fiber per day, the recommendation is 25-38 grams/day depending on age and sex.
To obey your doctor’s orders and make up any fiber shortfall, set a the goal to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, nuts and whole grains each day. Just remember to introduce fiber slowly and drink plenty of water when consuming it.
As a bonus I have added a link to one of my favorite recipes: High Fiber Bran Flax Muffins.
Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.
As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.