Fiber is one of those things that we all know is important, but few of us really know why? In fact, even the word makes many of us feel awkward. It brings up images of uncomfortable looking people on commercials or cereals that look more like kindling than actual food! So before we start force feeding ourselves bran muffins, let’s take a step back and really understand what fiber is.
Quite simply, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body. That means, it is not absorbed into our blood stream but rather moves through your body picking up waste and then makes its exit. It is found in all plant based foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes). There are two types of fiber: Insoluble and Soluble.
Insoluble fiber’s job is to move bulk through our intestines. It’s the type of fiber that we typically think of because it promotes bowel movements and helps prevent constipation. It is primarily found in the following foods:
- Skins of fruits and vegetables
- Dark leafy greens
- Whole-wheat products
- Nuts and seeds
Soluble fiber actually forms a gel when mixed with liquid, which helps it bind with fatty acids and carry them out of your body. This is why soluble fiber is most typically associated with lowering cholesterol. It also slows the emptying of the stomach so it helps control blood sugar, which is extremely important in weight management and controlling diabetes. It is primarily found in the following foods:
- Fruits and veggies
- Psyllium husk
The FDA recommends the average person consume at least 25g of dietary fiber each day, although many health professionals (including myself) recommend adults shoot for 30-35g depending on your caloric intake. If you are unsure how much you are getting, try tracking your food for a day to get a ballpark idea. If you find you are falling short, try these tips:
- Start with breakfast—I find this is the easiest meal to increase your fiber. Oatmeal is an ideal source but many cereals are starting to increase their fiber content – and not only the ones that look like twigs!
- Eat raw—Incorporate more raw fruit and vegetables into your diet and make sure to include the skin. Quick tip: produce with more skin surface area (i.e., peas, berries, etc.) tend to have more insoluble fiber.
- More beans please—Try to incorporate one vegetarian legume-based meal a week. You’ll kick up your fiber and you may actually like it!
- Top it off with some flaxseeds—Flaxseeds are a quick and easy way to add in fiber. Try sprinkling some on top of your salad or mixing it in with your yogurt or smoothie. You’ll hardly taste it and it will make your already healthy meal even more balanced
Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She’ll be guest blogging twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly firstname.lastname@example.org.