Focus On Fiber…

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

One of the world’s most important nutrients is fiber. We’ve all heard the term, yet the majority of Americans are still falling short on the recommended daily amount of fiber. The amount of fiber a person needs each day will vary based on the number of calories that person consumes. The Institute of Medicine recommends eating 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food consumed. As a general rule of thumb, you should probably be consuming 25-38 total grams of fiber per day.

Dietary fiber, found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and legumes, is most commonly associated with preventing or relieving constipation. However, fiber has other beneficial roles, including lowering your risk for diabetes and heart disease and helping you maintain a healthy weight.

Different Types of Fiber

Dietary fiber, which includes all portions of plants that your body can’t digest or absorb, passes through your body intact. There are two different types of fiber—soluble (can dissolve in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water). You should be getting a variety of both types of fiber in your diet.

Soluble Fiber – This fiber forms a gel-like substance in water and can help lower your cholesterol and blood sugar. Sources of soluble fiber include beans, peas, oats, apples, carrots, barley, citrus fruits and psyllium.

Insoluble Fiber – This fiber provides bulk to your stools and helps move material through your digestive system, thus promoting regularity. Sources of insoluble fiber include beans, vegetables, whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and seeds.

Tips for Increasing Your Fiber Intake

Savor the Skin – The skin houses most of the fiber.

Get a Little Nutty – Add flavor and fiber to your salads, vegetables, snacks, and desserts by tossing in your favorite type of nuts.

Beneficial Beans – Beans are loaded with fiber and are an economical way to fiberize your meals and snacks. Use beans in place of ground meats in recipes, or toss in some beans to your favorite soups, salads or veggie dishes.

Berry Delicious – Berries have nearly twice the fiber of most other fruits and can be easily added to a variety of dishes. Try tossing some in your morning cereal, adding them into your pancake or muffin batter, or sprucing up your salads with fresh berries. Add fruits and vegetables to foods you already like, such as pizza, pastas and casseroles.

Fiber and Fluids
You’ll need to increase your fluid intake as you add more fiber to your diet because your body requires more water to process the extra fiber you eat. Be sure to increase your fiber intake slowly so that your digestive system has time to adjust.

The Bottom Line
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and legumes is your best bet when it comes to getting enough fiber in your diet.

Want to support a good cause while having fun in the process? Mark your calendars for the Downtown Idiotarod, taking place on March 1st and 2nd. One of the challenges is a virtual food drive for Operation Food Search. Teams can sign up at www.downtownstl.org.