What is fiber?
Fiber is essential to overall health and wellness. It serves as a food source for gut bacteria and helps regulate bowel movements. Adequate consumption of fiber has been linked to lower incidence of constipation, heart disease, intestinal disorders, gallstones, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Fiber can be found in multiple food groups, which is helpful to those who have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances.
How does fiber work?
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber acts like a sponge, absorbing water and softening stool. In doing so, bowel movements become bulkier and are more easily passed through the intestinal tract.
Soluble fiber softens stool as well, but does less to help with movement of food. Its primary role is to prevent the absorption of certain substances into the bloodstream. Cholesterol and blood sugar levels may improve with a regular intake of soluble fiber.
How much fiber do I need?
The recommended amount of fiber is 20-35 grams per day. However, the average individual meets just half of their fiber needs. Fiber is on every nutrition label, and you will find it listed under “total carbohydrates.” Since fiber is a complex carbohydrate, it is abundantly found in unprocessed foods. Substituting whole foods for refined (highly processed) foods is a great way to improve your fiber intake.
While there are many foods that contain fiber, here are some options to consider:
- Cereals: Bran, Bulgur, Shredded Wheat
- Fruits: Prunes, Apples, Oranges
- Legumes: Beans, Lentils, Split Peas
- Vegetables: Potatoes (with skin), Peas, Carrots
- Grains: Bran, Whole Wheat, Brown Rice
Common side effects
When it comes to fiber, you want to “start low, go slow.” Increasing your intake of fiber too quickly may result in gas, bloating, and diarrhea. On the flip side, fiber in the presence of dehydration can cause constipation. Be sure to drink plenty of water. This especially applies to the use of fiber supplements.
To jumpstart your fiber intake, pick one fiber-rich food from each food group daily: fruits, vegetables, and starches/grains. Aim for at least 50% of your grains to come from whole grain sources.
Photos courtesy of the Noun Project
Michael DeCaro is a Registered Dietitian. He earned a Master’s Degree of Nutrition from Appalachian State University and currently works for Total Nutrition Technology. As a young adult, he understands the challenges of eating healthy on a budget. Michael endorses a non-diet approach through intuitive eating. He supports Total Nutrition Technology’s mission to assist individuals in obtaining optimal health and/or sports performance goals, resulting in healthier, longer, and stronger lives. You can contact Michael at email@example.com or 704-608-9351.
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