Eat more fiber. You hear it all the time. Here’s what you need to know.
Fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But fiber can provide other health benefits as well:
• Lowers cholesterol. One type of fiber called soluble, found in beans, oats and flaxseed, may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels.
• Helps control diabetes. Fiber can also slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A high-fiber diet may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
• Controls weight. High-fiber diets are usually less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food. And a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and stay in your stomach longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. Also, most high-fiber foods require lots of chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry — so you’re less likely to overeat.
• Might reduce cancer risk. Links between fiber and cancer risk are weak, but the American Cancer Society still recommends eating high fiber foods. Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains contain other nutrients that may help reduce cancer risk.
Fiber is not just for senior citizens. The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine recommends anywhere from 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily for adults, depending on age and gender.
For children older than age 2, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) gives this formula for determining recommended fiber intake: A child’s age plus five equals the grams of dietary fiber he or she should eat daily. For example, a 5-year-old child would need about 10 grams of fiber: 5+5=10.
For infants and children younger than age 2, no recommended daily dietary fiber intakes have been established.
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. Therefore, it passes virtually unchanged through your stomach and intestines.
Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, nuts). Here are some of your best sources.
|Split peas, cooked, 1 cup||16.3|
|Red kidney beans, boiled, 1 cup||13.1|
|Raspberries, raw, 1 cup||8.0|
|Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup||6.3|
|Oat bran muffin, medium||5.2|
|Medium pear with skin||5.1|
|Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup||5.1|
|Whole wheat English muffin||4.4|
|Medium apple with skin||4.4|
|Oatmeal, quick, regular or instant, cooked, 1 cup||4.0|
|Green beans, cooked, 1 cup||4.0|
|Brown rice, cooked, 1 cup||3.5|
|Almonds, 1 ounce||3.5|
|Medium apple with skin||3.5|
|Raisins, 1/2 cup||3.5|
|Popcorn, air-poped, 2 cups||2.3|
|Whole wheat bread, 1 slice||1.9|
|Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference|
Below are some fun, good tasting ways to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your family’s diet throughout the day.
Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.