The Power of Dietary Fiber

Contrary to popular belief, fiber is not just for those aged 55 and older. Fiber is actually an essential ingredient for maintaining a healthy diet – we all need it. Dietary fiber is most commonly thought of as a way to prevent or relieve constipation, but it actually has other attributes that support overall health and wellness.   Tweet This! It can also help one maintain a healthy weight but more importantly may lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), less that 10 percent of adults in the United States consume an adequate amount of dietary fiber each day.   Tweet This! Thus, dietary fiber is considered a “nutrient of public health concern” because low intakes are associated with potential health risks.

Dietary fiber has often been defined as the part of plant foods that were unable to be broken down by human digestive enzymes and be absorbed.  Unlike other food components like protein, fats and carbohydrates that can be broken down for nutritive value, fiber passes through the digestive system and out of the body.

Fiber is usually classified as soluble (the ability to be dissolved in solution) or insoluble (the inability to be dissolved in solution). In general, most foods that contain fiber have both soluble and insoluble fiber, but each type of fiber is variable depending on the source.   Tweet This!

Soluble fiber.

  • When soluble fiber is dissolved, it forms a gel-like substance in your stomach.
  • Soluble fiber provides a feeling of satiety or fullness.
  • Several sources of soluble fiber include barley, psyllium, carrots, oats, peas, beans and apples.   Tweet This!

Insoluble fiber.

  • Increases stool bulk and promotes its movement through your digestive system.
  • Helps reduce the symptoms of constipation or irregular bowel movements.
  • Great sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, nuts, whole wheat flour, cauliflower and green beans.   Tweet This!

How much dietary fiber should I have each day?

The Health and Medicine Division suggests that men consume 38 grams per day and 25 grams of fiber per day for women under the age of 50. Recommended fiber intake for adults age 51 and older is 30 grams per day for men and 21 grams per day for women.

What are the health benefits of dietary fiber?

  • Supports digestive health. Diets high in fiber help promote intestinal regularity. Fiber has the unique ability to increase the weight and size of your stool while softening it.  Fiber decreases your chance of constipation but also can solidify your stools if they are considered loose. This is because insoluble fiber helps to add bulk to your stool.
  • Aids in weight management. Nutrient dense foods that contain fiber increase the feeling of satiety. Remember, soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in your gut that keeps you feeling full which means you are less likely to consume extra calories.  Both soluble and insoluble fiber support satiety, which may help you eat less and stay satisfied longer.   Tweet This!
  • Lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. According to the FDA, diets high in fiber can help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Soluble fiber may help lower total blood cholesterol by lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C or “bad” cholesterol).  Soluble fiber has the added benefit of slowing the absorption of sugar, which in turn can help improve blood sugar levels.   Tweet This!

Sources of dietary fiber.

Considering adding more fiber-rich foods to your daily diet, such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, peas and other legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grain products

Fresh, fiber-rich food sources have higher fiber content than refined or processed foods, such as canned products, white breads and pastas, non-whole grain cereals and pulp-free juices.  The outer coat (bran) from the grain is removed during the refining process, which lowers the fiber content.  After processing, enriched foods have some vitamins and minerals but lack much needed fiber.

Alternatively, you can also choose foods that are fortified with extra fiber.  Look for ingredients like inulin and chicory root on the nutrition facts label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  The closer the ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.

Here are eight quick tips to help jump start your journey to experience the power of fiber.   Tweet This!

1) Start your day with a high fiber breakfast, such as whole grain oatmeal.

2) Choose foods with a higher percent Daily Value of dietary fiber.

3) Add beans, lentils, or peas to salads and soups, or as a side dish to a main entrée.

4) Try unsalted nuts and seeds as a substitute for meat and poultry.

5) Look for whole grains on the ingredient list on food packages.

6) Switch from refined to whole grain versions of commonly consumed foods, such as whole grain bread vs. white bread.

7) Incorporate fruit with salads and/or enjoy as a snack or dessert.

8) Stay stocked up on raw vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes or cauliflower, for times when you need a quick snack.

How will you incorporate more dietary fiber into your daily diet?  For more tips and information visit cdc.gov and fda.gov.


References

cdc.gov
fda.gov
mayoclinic.org