TIPS FOR INCREASING FIBER IN YOUR DIET
1. Make a peanut butter and sliced fruit (instead of jelly) sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
2. Use whole-wheat flour in cooking and baking.
3. Add kidney beans, garbanzos or other beans to soups and salads. A half-cup serving has about 7 grams of fiber.
4. Sprinkle wheat bran or fiber cereals over yogurt or cottage cheese.
5. Eat raw broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and carrots with dip instead of chips.
6. Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juice.
7. Leave the skins on potatoes.
8. Replace bread crumbs in recipes with rolled oats.
9. Try something new, like turnips, with greens included, over barley and lentils.
10. Use a flax egg (1 tablespoon flax seed meal to 3 tablespoons water) in place of an egg in baking. Flax seed contains 3.3. grams of fiber per tablespoon.
Sources: University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Program, American Academy of Family Physicians, University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, Harvard University School of Public Health and registered dietitians Laurie McGuire and Amy Autuori
Talk of dietary fiber can often lead to a rather indelicate topic.
"What a lot of people probably think of is fiber is to keep your bowels regular," said Laurie McGuire, dietitian at the Lifestyle Center of Chattanooga.
Indeed, fiber does serve that particular function. However, that's not all it does.
Fiber is also associated with lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as the risks of cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease and possibly some cancers.
Insoluble fiber, the type that dissolves in water, helps form bulk in the gastrointestinal tract, soften the stools and pass waste from the body.
"For people who struggle with constipation, it can really make your life miserable," McGuire said.
In addition to avoiding discomfort, keeping regular is important for general health and to help prevent certain diseases.
"By having regular bowel movements, you can decrease your risk of diverticulitis, as well as having bowel surgeries. It's important to get that waste product out of your body," said Amy Autuori, a dietitian with Memorial Hospital.
The other kind of fiber, soluble fiber, can help lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.
"This is really important for people with diabetes. This is why we have them increase their fiber intake," Autuori said.
A 2009 study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center indicated that increasing fiber intake reduced the body's ability to absorb calcium in diabetic patients, however. Simultaneous increase of dietary calcium and fiber, under the care of a doctor, was recommended.
McGuire said fiber helps lower what dietary experts refer to as "bad" cholesterol -- LDLs or low-density lipoproteins. "It also can reduce blood pressure and inflammation."
A nine-year study at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., found that increasing dietary fiber intake lowered the risk of death -- 24 percent to 56 percent in men and 34 percent to 59 percent in women -- from cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases, as compared to those who do not get sufficient fiber.
According to the American Cancer Society, the link between fiber intake and reduced incidence of cancer is weak, but eating foods high in fiber is recommended, as they have been associated with reducing cancer risk.
"Diets high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, but fiber supplements do not seem to help," the website for the American Cancer Society reads.
Fiber is essential in weight-loss efforts. It takes longer to digest and longer to eat, thus reducing the amount of food consumed.
"If you're eating applesauce, you can down that pretty quickly," McGuire said, "whereas if you're eating a whole apple, that's going to take you a little bit longer."
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, wheat bran, beans and green leafy vegetables.
Soluble fiber can be found in beans, oats, barley, flax seed, vegetables and fruits.
The soluble fiber found in fruit is largely located in the fruit's skin and is most beneficial when consumed raw, McGuire said. A large pear, for example, contains about 5.8 grams of fiber, according to Harvard University Health Services, and a cup of raspberries contains 3.3. grams. The fiber in berries is found in the seeds.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Association, most Americans consume about 15 grams of fiber per day. The recommended amount is 25 grams for adult women and 38 grams for adult men.
There are some easy ways to get more fiber, Autuori said. "You want to scan [nutrition labels] for that word 'whole wheat' and you want that to be the first ingredient. You also want to look for bran -- bran cereals, bran flour. Those are the highest sources of fiber."
The word 'whole' is important, McGuire added. Some wheat breads, touted as healthy, may only look better for you because of added color. "Look for 'whole wheat,' 'whole oat,' 'whole rye.' Make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain."
But, they warn, increase gradually, lest you suffer the consequences of bombarding your body with too much fiber all at once.
"If you're not used to getting that much fiber, you could get a little bit of bloating and abdominal distress," said Autuori.
McGuire was more explicit. "If you go from zero to 25 grams in a day, you're going to have a horrible stomachache," she said.
Some fiber bars and cereals advertise a high percentage of daily fiber, but those can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
"And they taste horrible," said McGuire. "They look like gerbil food, and they don't taste good."
To make the cereals more palatable, she recommends mixing it with other cereal or sprinkling it over yogurt.
The best way to get sufficient fiber is to focus on whole foods and incorporate fiber in your diet throughout the day.
"Even popcorn is a great source of fiber," Autuori said. "Don't get the buttery kind or the movie-theater popcorn because that's kind of defeating the purpose."
"It really is just trying to incorporate a healthful diet," she said. "If you're getting in your whole grains, your fruits, your vegetable and your beans, you probably will be meeting your 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. The problem is a lot of us don't eat that consistently."
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...