By Nora Saul
M.S, R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E.
Manager of Nutritional Education at Joslin Diabetes Center
Nutritionists and health professionals are always extolling the virtues of a high fiber diet and bemoaning the fact that Americans get so little.
But, how much should we get, why should we get it and how can we get it without increasing the time we spend in the kitchen three-fold or taking a handful of pills?
The good news is that getting adequate fiber can be a good tasting trip down the fresh food aisle of any supermarket.
Fiber is a type of plant carbohydrate and is found in breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, peas and beans and nuts. The less processed the food, the more fiber it is likely to have, hence whole grain breads and cereals will have more fiber than highly processed varieties and whole fruits will have more fiber than juices. (unless the juice is fortified with fiber).
Though fiber has almost no calories since it passes through the body virtually undigested, it packs a powerhouse of health benefits.
Insoluble fiber, the type found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables, can reduce the incidence and severity of constipation by softening the stool and increasing the speed waste products move through the digestive tract. This can help prevent hemorrhoids and diverticulosis (a condition in which pockets form in the walls of the colon).
Soluble fiber found in dried peas and beans, oats, apples and citrus foods forms a gel in the intestine, trapping cholesterol and removing it in the stool. Both types of fiber can add bulk to the diet, making dieters feel fuller and helping them lose weight.
When it comes to fiber, in general more is better. The National Academy of Sciences recommends adults under age 50 get 25-38 grams and those over age 51, 21-30 grams per day. Another way to calculate your fiber needs is to look at your calorie intake; you should have at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories you eat. So if you eat about 2000 calories a day that would be about 28-30 grams of fiber.
Is there a top five sources of fiber? The highest fiber sources in the diet are high fiber cereals and beans. Some cereals have over 12 grams of fiber per serving and dried peas and beans have 6-8 grams per servings.
It is best however to get your fiber from a variety of sources since different fiber containing foods come packaged with a different set of nutrients. You will get B vitamins from cereal products but vitamin A and C from a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Adding vegetables to casseroles and soups, beans to salads and wraps and choosing fruits and nuts as snacks will put you well on your way to getting your daily fiber boost. To avoid gas and abdominal distress increase your fiber intake gradually and drink plenty of fluids.
Get more information….
- On diabetes and nutrition
- On nutrition classes at the Joslin Diabetes Center
- On diabetes
- On books about diabetes and nutrition (plus diabetes cookbooks)
———————————This blog by Nora Saul appeared earlier this year on www.healthywomen.org Check out Nora’s appearance on HealthyWomen and Real Women on Health Talk Radio, where she offers simple tips on keeping nutrition healthy but tasty and the importance of monitoring sugar levels and taking insulin when necessary.