What is Fiber?
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains, and is non-caloric and not digestible. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble . Each play different roles in the body that can have positive effects on long-term health.
When consuming a diet low in fat, addition of soluble fiber can help to lower blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber absorbs water and can be found in oatmeal, beans, barley, oat bran, pectin (from fruit) and psyllium, which are found in some types of cereals and over the counter supplements. Past research has shown that consuming 2 oz of an oat cereal daily may lower blood cholesterol by an additional 2-3%. Hence the recent heavy marketing and advertising of oat-based cereals.
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Insoluble fiber does not mix with water and is found primarily in wheat bran and whole wheat products. You can also consume insoluble fiber by eating the skin on fruits and whole vegetables, where it is found in the form of cellulose and lignin. Additionally, fiber found in nuts and seeds are insoluble. This type of fiber helps digestion, as it increases the bulk of stool and promotes regular bowel habits. Insoluble fiber does not lower cholesterol levels. However, it can help in the role of weight management for people who are overweight. By slowing the rate of your stomach emptying, insoluble fiber helps you feel fuller longer after meals and snacks, so you tend not to overindulge in calories and fat.
How Can Fiber Help Me?
It appears that by consuming soluble fiber you may be able to lower your blood cholesterol. This type of fiber binds with cholesterol and bile in your digestive tract and slows its absorption into your system. In fact, by eating enough soluble fiber (along with a heart healthy diet), you may be able to lower your cholesterol by up to 10%.
Not only can fiber help to control cholesterol levels, it can also play a role in blood sugar control for people with diabetes. Ultimately, by better controlling blood sugar levels, fiber can lower their risk of developing heart disease. Consuming foods with dietary fiber may also decrease your risk of developing diverticulosis & colon cancer. Additionally, researchers have been looking into the role that fiber plays in the lowering of blood pressure.
Constipation prevention: Typically, people who suffer from constipation may be directed by their physicians to consume fiber to alleviate symptoms. However, if an adequate amount of fluids (de-caffeinated, non-alcoholic) is not consumed when increasing fiber, the problem may worsen. If you are not used to consuming a diet high in fiber, it is important to do it slowly. This gives your body time to adjust.
More importantly, fiber-rich foods are extremely nutritious and contain healthful components, including vitamins and minerals that are essential for our growth and for disease prevention. They are also a wonderful source of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help in the prevention of cancer and heart disease. It is also possible that components of fiber-rich foods that have yet to be discovered can help with our overall health and well being.
How Much Fiber Should I Eat?
The recommendation for consuming fiber is a total of 25-30 grams per day of combined soluble and insoluble types. Most individuals consume only half of this amount. In order to have a heart healthy effect, it is recommended that 6-8 grams of soluble fiber be eaten daily, with the remainder in insoluble fiber.
It is easy to increase the amount of fiber-rich foods in your diet by doing some easy meal planning. By simply following the guidelines of the food guide pyramid, you can achieve your minimum goal of 25 grams per day. Let's take a look below:
If we look at the food guide pyramid, we can see by the recommendations how dietary fiber can add up quickly:
Bread, cereal, rice, & pasta: Minimum of 6 servings per day
Choose whole grain products with at least 3grams dietary fiber per serving.
(6 x 3) = 18 grams per day.
Fruit Group: Minimum 2 servings per day
Choose fresh fruit - they have an average of 3 grams of fiber per piece of medium fruit or in ½ cup.
(2 x 3) = 6 grams per day.
Vegetable Group: Minimum of 3 servings per day
Choose fresh or frozen vegetables - These have an average of 2 grams of fiber per ½ cup cooked or 1-cup raw serving.
(3 x 2) = 6 grams per day.
Note that already, the daily tally is up to 30 grams per day, which meets your goal of 25-30 grams per day. By adding extra beans (about 7 grams dietary fiber per ½ cup serving) and nuts (about 3 grams of fiber in a one ounce serving) your diet is well on its way to being one that is fiber rich and nutrient dense.
How Do I Read A Food Label To Determine A Fiber Rich Food?
In order to make sure a food is rich in fiber, it is important to read the “Nutrition Facts” label on food packages. If you keep the following guidelines in mind as you shop, you can rest easy with the knowledge that you are purchasing a heart-healthy product:
- Always look for Serving Size and Dietary Fiber on a nutrition facts label. This is the only way to determine if a product is a good source of fiber.
- Cereals should contain a minimum of 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
- Bread, English muffins, Pita or other type of bread product should have at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Be aware: just because a label states that the product is “whole wheat” does NOT mean that it has enough fiber per serving. Some whole wheat products have only 1 gram of dietary fiber per serving. You must always look at the label.
- Pasta should have at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per 2 oz. dry serving (Regular pastas have only 2 grams per serving).
- Grains such as rice, buckwheat, millet, etc. should have at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
- Eat a variety of starches including oat bran and whole grains to include both soluble and insoluble types of fiber.
- Beware of whole grain starches that are more than 3 grams of total fat per serving. Many are high in hydrogenated oils that are damaging to the heart and overall cholesterol levels. These are typically known as trans-fats and are NOT listed on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Choose fresh, frozen or dried fruit. Some fruit have both sources of fiber. For example, an apple has insoluble fiber (the skin) and soluble fiber (pectin inside the apple). Fiber is usually extracted in juice and skin is removed from canned fruit. Even juices with pulp are not good sources of fiber.
- Fresh or frozen vegetables are both good sources of fiber. Additionally, if purchasing vegetables that are not in season, purchase them frozen. Why frozen? Because the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are locked in at the time the vegetable is harvested. Canned vegetables tend to have less fiber and are higher in sodium.
- Beans are a wonderful source of fiber. If it is easier to purchase and prepare canned beans as opposed to soaking dried ones, just rinse in a colander to wash away excess sodium. Keep beans in a Tupperware container in your refrigerator. They can be added to salads, pastas, and meals. This is easy to do when you have them on hand and easily accessible.
- Nuts, which can have a heart protective effect, are a wonderful source of fiber. If you are trying to watch your waistline, be careful, as the total fat can add up very quickly. Some nuts, such as almonds are also a good source of Vitamin E.
In the past, food labels only stated total dietary fiber on a label. Now that the public is more aware of the different benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber, labels are beginning to separate the two types. Keep in mind the goal of 6-8 grams of soluble fiber per day. Here is an example of a nutrition label you will find:
Can I Eat Too Much Fiber?
Consuming too much fiber may decrease absorption of calcium and other nutrients. Additionally, fiber can produce gas, lead to bloating, and increase bowel movements, so eating too much of it can be an uncomfortable experience. Due to this discomfort, most people stop eating before they become uncomfortable.
Is Eating Soluble And Insoluble Fiber Enough For Me To Have A Heart Healthy Diet?
Consuming an adequate amount of dietary fiber per day is just one piece of the puzzle. Decreasing the amount of saturated and trans fat in the diet is important to manage cholesterol levels. In fact, lowering saturated and trans fat in the diet can have an even greater impact than simply consuming less dietary cholesterol. This type of fat is found in both animal and plant products such as butter, margarine, whole milk dairy products, high fat meats, palm and coconut oils.
The addition of healthy fats can also have a positive effect on the state of your heart. You can achieve this by adding monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to the diet. Examples of monounsaturated fats include, but are not limited to, olive and canola oil, and polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3 fats which are heart protective) can be found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and some nuts.
Finally, we cannot forget the role that physical activity has on our heart. Not only does exercise help to keep our heart muscle strong but it can also help to improve our HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol) and positively affect our overall cholesterol/HDL ratio.
With a bit more awareness, food label consciousness, and variety and meal planning, consuming a fiber rich diet can be an easy and tasty way to achieve a lifetime of heart health and disease prevention.
|FOOD||AMOUNT||TOTAL FIBER (GRAMS)||SOLUBLE FIBER (GRAMS)|
|Oatmeal (dry)||1/3 cup||2.8||1.3|
|Oat Bran (dry)||1/3 cup||4.4||2.0|
|Corn Flakes||1 ounce||0.3||0.1|
|White Bread||1 slice||0.4||0.2|
|Whole Wheat Bread||1 slice||2.0 - 3.0||0.2|
|Brussel Sprouts||1/2 cup||3.8||2.0|
|Kidney Beans||1/2 cup||6.7||2.0|
|Pinto Beans||1/2 cup||6.7||2.0|